WASHINGTON — News vet Walter Cronkite will be the pitch man for a new campaign going after broadcasters for not offering enough affordable or free airtime to federal candidates, even though the airwaves are owned by the American public.
“We need your help. We need to make sure that in the greatest democracy in the world, our political campaigns are driven by ideas, not by money,” Cronkite says during a nine-minute PSA taking broadcasters to task for jacking up the costs of campaigns though ad rates.
The coalition sponsoring the Cronkite piece will officially kick off their grass-roots drive Monday, less than one week after Congress passed landmark campaign finance reform legislation that spared broadcasters from having to offer deep discounts to federal candidates.
Broadcasters, who wield considerable lobbying power on Capitol Hill, said the discount would only lead to more ads, not less.
The National Assn. of Broadcasters also has insisted that TV stations already donate sizable chunks of free airtime to candidates, but that in recent years, politicos haven’t availed themselves of the chance to appear before the camera.
But undeterred, the Alliance for Better Campaigns and other coalition members producing the Cronkite piece will now push for specific legislation requiring TV stations to devote two hours per week to candidate discussions in the weeks leading up to an election. They also want a special tax levied on broadcasters that would be used to give airtime vouchers to candidates.
“The single biggest reason why campaigns are so expensive are those 30-second TV ads,” Cronkite said.
Under federal law, broadcasters are required to give discounts to political candidates. Rates, however, can vary depending upon the timeslot and whether a candidate is willing to have a spot preempted.