Lawmakers seek inquiry into stations’ lobbying spending

Issa, Quigley question broadcast time opposing radio airplay legislation

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) have asked for an investigation into whether radio stations complied with lobbying disclosure rules when they devoted on-air time to opposing the music industry’s long-sought-after performance rights legislation.

That legislation would have required that broadcast radio stations pay performers when they play their works on air, but, amid strident opposition from radio broadcasters, the most recent version of the bill stalled in Congress in 2010.

The letter from Issa and Quigley was actually sent in January to the comptroller general of the General Accountability Office, but the the MusicFirst Coalition, which is pushing for performance rights legislation, released a copy of it on Friday. Artists and music industry representatives spent Thursday lobbying on Capitol Hill as part of an annual push, called Grammys on the Hill.

Issa and Quigley asked the GAO to examine whether broadcasters complied with lobbying disclosure rules and whether they put records of ads they ran on their own stations into the public file. Issa and Quigley noted that stations were obligated to report rate information under the terms of the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law, which covered not just candidates but spending on legislative issues.

During the debate over the legislation, many radio broadcasters ran ads and editorials warning of the bill and its potential impact on their operations. Advocates in the music industry complained that some stations refused to sell them ad time to counter the spots. Issa and Quigley also cited instances where stations ran spots advocating for legislation requiring the manufacturers put FM chips in smart phones, and ads expressing concerns over plans to auction off broadcast spectrum for wireless use.

National Assn. of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton said in a statement, “NAB believes appropriate disclosures were made on these messages. When free and local broadcasting is threatened by bad public policy proposals, we have a First Amendment right and responsibility to educate our millions of listeners and viewers.”

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