Jul 28, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he plans to introduce legislation this week that would require broadcasters to pay spectrum fees to underwrite political advertising costs.
Under the measure, broadcasters would also be required to devote time to political issues and candidates before elections.
“The purpose of the legislation is to increase the flow of political information in broadcast media and to reduce the cost to candidates of reaching voters,” Sen. McCain said at hearings before the Senate Commerce Committee last week. “Our democracy is stronger when a candidate’s success is achieved by ideas and not by dollars.”
Under the key provision for broadcasters in the measure-which is slated to be co-sponsored by Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., and Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill.-commercial radio and TV stations would be required to chip in up to 1 percent of their annual gross revenues for the underwriting fund.
Qualified political parties and candidates would use the funds under regulations set by the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Elections Commission.
In a statement last week, the watchdog group Alliance for Better Campaigns endorsed the measure. “Ensuring that the publicly owned airwaves are better utilized will be the next step in revitalizing and improving our democratic process for the benefit of all Americans,” the alliance said.
But the National Association of Broadcasters has vowed to fight.
Despite the measure’s backing from Sen. McCain, its prospects are dubious at best. NAB has easily defeated similar initiatives by Sen. McCain in the past, largely because many incumbent lawmakers fear the legislation would rob them of the fund-raising advantage they usually enjoy over their political challengers.
Also at the hearings, the Lear Center Local News Archive and the Alliance for Better Campaigns released studies that said six out of the 10 top-rated news broadcasts included no campaign coverage in the seven weeks leading up to last year’s elections and that stations jacked up the prices of candidate ads by more than 50 percent in the two months before the vote.
Sen. McCain called the study results “disturbing.”
Dennis Wharton, an NAB spokesman, said the Lear study was misleading because it failed to consider debate time offered by broadcasters, early afternoon newscasts, Sunday morning talks shows and programs such as ABC’s “Nightline.”
“To my knowledge, there has not been one finding by the FCC that stations overcharge candidates,” Mr. Wharton said.