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NAB Close to Selecting Rehr

Sep 19, 2005  •  Post A Comment

The National Association of Broadcasters is close to a decision to name David Rehr, a partisan Republican who is currently president of the National Beer Wholesalers Association, as NAB’s new president and CEO, sources said late last week.

Mr. Rehr got the nod from the NAB’s search committee during a conference call last Wednesday. But a final deal was said to be contingent on NAB and Mr. Rehr hammering out a mutually agreeable employment contract.

A majority of the members of the search committee voted to endorse Mr. Rehr’s candidacy, even though his selection is expected to upset Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee.

“It’s viewed on the Hill as a bizarre choice,” a source close to Sen. Stevens said.

Assuming that Mr. Rehr and NAB succeed in negotiating a contract, one of Mr. Rehr’s first orders of business would appear to be smoothing the ruffled feathers of Sen. Stevens. As chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, which has broadcast industry oversight, Sen. Stevens has a powerful say on issues critical to broadcasters, including indecency and whether to legislate to require cable TV operators to carry all of the signals that broadcasters multicast on their digital TV channels.

“A very unusual and perplexing choice,” the source close to Sen. Stevens said of Mr. Rehr.

Sen. Stevens made it clear he wanted NAB to hire Mitch Rose, a former Stevens aide who is now a lobbyist for The Walt Disney Co., to succeed Eddie Fritts as NAB’s president and CEO, sources said.

But Mr. Rehr has won particularly strong backing from Citadel Communications CEO Phil Lombardo, one of the NAB search committee’s co-chairmen, sources said.

Among Mr. Rose’s advantages over Mr. Rehr, according to Mr. Rose’s backers, is that Mr. Rose has actually worked for years on media industry issues on Capitol Hill, while Mr. Rehr is a stranger to the broadcasting business.

Mr. Rose is also said to enjoy the support of key Democrats, including Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, the Senate Commerce Committee’s ranking minority member.

Mr. Rehr, on the other hand, is considered a very well-connected and influential Washington lobbyist, with particularly strong connections to Republican Party leaders, including House Majority leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas. He emerged last month as the leading candidate (TelevisionWeek, Aug. 29).

Mr. Lombardo did not return telephone calls. Dennis Wharton, an NAB spokesman, said, “Until there’s a selection, NAB is not commenting.”

In 2004, Mr. Rehr distinguished himself by campaigning for President Bush’s re-election and by personally raising more than $100,000 for the Bush-Cheney campaign war chest.

Under his leadership, the political action committee for the beer association also established itself as one of the nation’s top five contributors to federal campaigns. The beer association PAC, according to the watchdog Center for Responsive Politics, gave $2.3 million to congressional re-election campaigns during the 2004 election, with 76 percent of the total going to GOP candidates.