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Clinton to back free ad time

WASHINGTON — President Clinton is expected today to step up pressure on broadcasters to hand over free airtime to political campaigns by repeating his endorsement of pending campaign reform legislation.

With Washington mired in a web of scandals related to campaign financing, many inside the Beltway say requisitioning free airtime from the broadcast industry would ease the pressure on the political system.

President Clinton has already endorsed legislation that calls on broadcasters to set aside chunks of time for political campaign commercials, and today he will speak at the D.C. confab entitled “Free Air Time and Campaign Reform.” Also scheduled to speak at the confab are FCC chairman Reed Hundt and the sponsor of the pending campaign reform bill, Senate Commerce Committee chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Despite jawboning by elected officials, the prospect of campaign reform legislation is uncertain at best. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) is opposed to legislation that would allow politicians to use airtime without paying for it, and sources say he will not allow the proposal to reach the Senate floor.

Broadcasters opposed

The powerful broadcasting industry also opposes the proposal, noting that candidates for federal office are already guaranteed deeply discounted ad rates under current law.

The proposal sponsored by McCain and Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) rewards candidates who agree to voluntary spending limits with up to 30 minutes of free airtime each election cycle on the station or stations of their choice. In order to qualify for the free time, Senate candidates in California, for example, would have to agree to a spending limit of $8.25 million.

Candidates must also agree to spend no more than $250,000 of their own money in their election effort. In contrast, Former Rep. Michael Huffington spent $28 million of his personal fortune in a failed bid to defeat Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

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