McCain pushes for political ad reform

Pol suggests b'casters cough up $750 mil worth of airtime to candidates

WASHINGTON — Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is likely today to outline rough plans for legislation that would strengthen federal rules requiring that broadcasters give political candidates a break when seeking air time for campaign plugs.

McCain, scheduled to deliver a speech at a confab hosted by the Alliance for Better Campaigns, will not introduce any such legislation until his larger campaign reform package is addressed by Congress, as he doesn’t want to confuse the issues.

The senator has even suggested that broadcasters cough up $750 million worth of free airtime to candidates. Another option would be to rethink Federal Communications Commission rules requiring broadcasters to offer discounted rates to candidates.

Earlier this month, the Alliance for Better Campaigns charged the broadcasting industry with being a co-conspirator in the ever-escalating cost of running a campaign. In election 2000, candidates spent a record $771 million for airtime.

The Washington watchdog group accused broadcasters of circumventing FCC rules.

At a press briefing Wednesday, the National Assn. of Broadcasters said the charges were without merit. Trade org said broadcasters are not in violation of FCC regs, and that they do indeed offer candidates discounted rates.

At the same time, candidates often pay higher ad rates in order to get the best spot and to avoid being pre-empted.

Also, the increased money spent for campaign ads is due to ads purchased by third parties, such as issue orgs and political parties. Unlike candidates, these groups are not subject to the discounted rates.

NAB general counsel Jack Goodman said the $771 million figure was arbitrary and incorrect.

“There’s no more chance of it being correct than a figure I might make up,” Goodman said.

Goodman said the idea of giving free airtime won’t work because it is unconstitutional. Broadcasters would be unable to decide who gets what time, and when, without treading on First Amendment territory.

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