Citing a record campaign spending on TV time of around $2.25 billion, the Campaign Legal Center is pushing the new Congress to back a communications voucher system that would have broadcasters subsidizing political campaign ads as part of their public interest obligations.
It tried, but failed, to get passage of its Our Democracy, Our Airwaves Act two Congresses ago, essentially giving away much of the airtime it now charges for.
The system would require broadcasters to match in airtime--on a three-to-one ratio--money raised by qualified candidates with a like amount in airtime for campaign ads. That means that broadcasters would have to provide, say, $750 in airtime, for a candidate voucher it could only redeem for $250. The center also wants the government to levy a spectrum use fee on broadcasters--slightly south of 1% of gross revenues--to help underwrite the effort.
To buttress its case, made in a letter to legislators, the center said broadcasters were not informing viewers in their news coverage about campaign issues, citing a recent Midwest News Index study that looked at seven Midwest markets and found that stations aired "4-1/2 minutes of paid political ads during a 30-minute broadcast, while only offering 1 minute 43 seconds of election news coverage."
Broadcasters have taken issue with the study, pointing out that it is funded by a group opposing media consolidation and that the study did not include morning news, midday news, or campaign speech in other dayparts.