Cable veteran Bill Daniels stands ready to give federal
political candidates more than $86,000 in free advertising time on his two systems.
But Daniels wants federal authorities to assure him, in
advance, that the move will not be construed as an illegal corporate campaign
Daniels wants cable to be a part of the solution in
campaign funding reform, so he's asked the Federal Election Commission (FEC) for an
advisory opinion. The free ads would be given to qualified congressional and senatorial
candidates in districts serving his north San Diego County and Desert Hot Springs, Calif.,
Daniels, once a Colorado gubernatorial candidate himself,
said, "Although I am a lifelong Republican, what I am proposing is designed to
benefit all candidates and parties."
His prepared statement added, "In fact, my guess is
that a lot of Republican Party officials may not embrace this concept. But the campaign
process has gotten out of hand and people are sick of what's going on."
Daniels is not urging other operators to follow his lead at
this time, said Bob Russo, executive vice president of Daniels & Associates, who was
designated to speak for the ailing Daniels.
"Bill views this initial effort as an experiment. He
wants to see how the people, the candidates and the media respond, then possibly expand
the effort," he said.
Executives at the National Cable Television Association,
Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau, Cable Telecommunications Association and C-SPAN were
notified before Daniels made his intent public, Russo said.
"Bill feels the industry could get off the defensive
and could move on the offensive regarding its reputation with the American public [by
contributing to campaign reform]," Russo said.
Campaign watchers called the move laudable, adding
they've seen an increase in public service by operators in the political realm as the
broadcasters curtail their efforts.
As an example, Bob Stern of the California-based Center for
Government Studies noted that stations in his state barely covered the June open primary,
The core of the campaigning occurred during ratings sweep
and some candidates reported they couldn't even buy ad time. Conversely, the
"bright light" on the election was provided by Century Communications
Corp.'s Los Angeles area franchise and the California Channel, Stern said.
Century offered five minutes of free access time to all
qualified candidates, including minority parties like the Greens. The California Channel,
the state's version of C-SPAN, aired the statements on tape. The two cable outlets
also provided live coverage of the only gubernatorial debate among Democratic challengers.
Local stations generally summarized the debate, instead.
"I think [Daniels'] strategy is brilliant,"
added Bob Squier, a Washington, D.C.-based Democratic political consultant. "I bet
this works and it will call the bluff of the broadcasters who are doing lip service to
Squier said campaigns still go for broadcast coverage, but
are learning the value of a cable audience.
"The great thing about cable -- those viewers are
voters. They're not big numbers, but they are quality numbers. If you get a candidate
on Larry King Live!, you're talking to voters," he said.
Campaigns, however, still have trouble when it comes to the
reliability of ratings numbers for justifying cable ad cost, he added.
It may be hard for operators to bite the bullet and follow
Daniels' lead, though. Campaigns are moneymakers, though it is difficult to record
Kevin Barry, vice president of local sales and marketing
for CAB, explained that an organization would have to track 54,000 sites daily -- 3,000
operators with ad insertion capability multiplied by up to 20 satellite programming
networks -- to come up with reliable earnings figures off political ads.
But based on anecdotal evidence, "we know it's a
great category," he said.
Daniels will argue to the FEC that the free ad plan
qualifies as "political commentary" and is therefore legal.
If approved, the systems will accept ads from
"qualified" candidates for senate and three congressional districts. Daniels
defined qualified as campaigns that have raised or spent $5,000 and have a candidate on
the ballot, said Phil Urbina, spokesman for Daniels Cablevision in Carlsbad, Calif.
The operator will not do state races because "we had
to start somewhere," he added.
Daniels will accept submissions weekly for eight weeks
going into the Nov. 3 election and will run them randomly across networks, including Cable
News Network, Headline News and ESPN. Daniels has pledged $11,250 in free time in the
Desert Hot Springs system and $75,000 in north San Diego County.
Cable officials anticipate that the FEC will rule on the
request at its Sept. 3 meeting.