Spectrum fees would finance ads

Oct 21, 2002  •  Post A Comment

A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers led by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., introduced legislation last week that would require broadcasters to pay spectrum fees to help underwrite advertising for federal political candidates.
Under the measure, which was co-sponsored by Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., and Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., broadcasters would pay up to 1 percent of their gross annual revenues to create a $750 million fund that federal candidates and their parties could tap to buy political ads on TV and radio stations every two years.
Another provision in the bill would require broadcasters to air at least two hours a week of “candidate-centered or issue-centered” programming before elections. In addition, the measure requires broadcasters to give candidates the same favorable advertising rates they give to their best commercial advertisers.
“By increasing the flow of political information, free airtime can better inform the public about candidates,” Sen. McCain said.
But broadcasters are vowing to fight to preserve a source of ad revenue that Mr. Taylor said would generate as much as $1 billion for the industry this year.
“The reality is broadcasters are offering a tremendous amount of free airtime, and the challenge is to get candidates to accept our offers of debates and other opportunities,” said Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters.
The broadcast industry has easily beaten down free-time initiatives by Sen. McCain and other lawmakers in the past, in part because many incumbent politicians oppose the concept behind the scenes, fearing it would level the playing field for their challengers.
“If you have 99 percent name recognition in your district, the last thing you want as an incumbent is to give your challenger free time on broadcast stations to challenge you,” said one broadcast industry source.#