House Strips Cheap Ad-Rate Provision


The cable- and broadcast-television industries dodged a potentially costly
bullet Wednesday as the House stripped a campaign-financing bill of a provision
that would have required television stations to offer candidates for federal
office lower rates for political advertising.

The House approved an amendment, offered by Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas), by a
327-to-101 vote that came hours before the chamber agreed to the full
campaign-funding bill.

Now the legislation moves on to the Senate, which passed a similar bill last
year. Unlike the House, however, the Senate included in its version a
requirement for cheap advertising rates.

The provision, authored by Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.), mandates that
television stations offer candidates the lowest unit charge for a specific time
slot over the preceding 180 days. Torricelli's amendment also prohibits stations
from bumping candidates' ads when other advertisers offer to pay more.

While television stations already must offer candidates below-average
advertising rates, many candidates end up paying more for non-pre-emptable
airtime. Proponents of Torricelli's amendment have accused stations of 'gouging'

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said Thursday that he expects his
chamber to simply consider the House version of the bill instead of trying to
resuscitate Torricelli's provision in a conference committee. That effectively
dooms the new LUC requirement.

Cable and broadcasting groups lobbied furiously against the provision in the
House, fearing that it would cost them substantial amounts of advertising
revenue and lead to a proliferation of political ads at the expense of normal

In addition, cable organizations argued that the requirement set a dangerous
precedent of overzealous federal regulation of cable advertising rates.

'We don't use the public airwaves, so there's a jurisdictional issue that
we're concerned with,' National Cable & Telecommunications Association
spokesman Marc Smith said.

The lobbying apparently paid off. On the eve of the vote, the bill's two
authors -- Reps. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Marty Meehan (D-Mass.) --
announced that dozens of lawmakers had persuaded them to allow consideration of
Green's amendment.

Working with the National Association of Broadcasters, Green and three other
congressmen wrote to their House colleagues Feb. 13, warning that the LUC
requirement 'would significantly, adversely, and unnecessarily alter the way in
which television broadcasters sell advertising time.'

Smith and other experts conceded, however, that the provision might not have
a detrimental impact on cable advertising revenues. It is hard to predict how
much the provision would cost the industry because ad prices depend on what
demand and ratings look like in the months leading up to a federal election.

'It really is the precedent of the issue that has the higher cost,' Smith

Paul Taylor, executive director of the Alliance for Better Campaigns, which
supports Torricelli's amendment, said that while the LUC provision appears dead,
his advocacy group and its congressional allies have their sights set on bigger
things, like free airtime for all federal candidates.

'We're sort of preparing for a new round of battles,' he added.

States News Service