Capital Watch


Where Credit Isn't Due

The Minority Media Telecommunications Council is urging the FCC to eliminate what it points to as a loophole in auction rules for broadcast channels.

According to the council, the auction allows buyers to temporarily pose as bidders qualified for a small-business credit even though they may be backed by established media companies. The loophole can skew bidding by leading small businesses entitled to the credit to believe they are bidding against other small bidders and thus go for channels they have little hope of winning. "This major flaw in the broadcast auction rules has fatally weakened the commission's only significant policy aimed at promoting minority broadcast ownership," MMTC Executive Director David Honig wrote in a petition to the FCC.

Buyers, he said, can pose as credit-eligible during early stages of an auction and then, when bidding has begun, announce that they will not use the credit. By then, it's too late for small businesses that actually do need the credit to vie for other channels they have a better chance of winning.

MMTC is seeking an immediate stay on bidding but is particularly concerned about an as-yet-unscheduled auction for 350 FM construction permits.

Clarke To Unembed

Pentagon and former cable-industry spokeswoman Victoria Clarke has left her post as assistant secretary of defense for public affairs. Clarke, who has young children, said the job's demands were far greater than she counted on following the 9/11 attacks and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called Clarke "a gifted communicator." Clarke, former communications chief for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, oversaw the Pentagon's program for embedding reporters with troops. "She has developed countless new methods to tell the story of our fighting forces and bring their courage, dedication and professionalism into sharp focus for all Americans," Rumsfeld said. Lawrence Di Rita, special assistant to the Secretary of Defense, will assume Clarke's duties until a permanent replacement is found.

Supreme Court Upholds Contribution Ban

Campaign contributions from advocacy groups can be banned by the government, the Supreme Court ruled last week.

The donation ban is not directly related to the court's review of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law, but the ruling has been highly anticipated for hints at what direction the justices might take in that case. Last week's decision shows that the court feels that protecting the political process can sometimes trump First Amendment arguments like those of broadcasters and others against McCain-Feingold.

The justices upheld a federal donation ban that applies to groups pushing a point of view, such as gun rights or abortion limits. By a vote of 7-2, the court said the right to free speech does not override Congress's goal of limiting the corrosive effects of corporate money on politics.

The McCain-Feingold law bans corporate, union and unlimited contributions—known as soft money—to national party committees and restricts political ads during election season. The court will hear arguments in McCain-Feingold in a special session in September, a month before the court's regular term starts.

Bowen names Student of the Year

Dan Martinez, who has earned a full-time job at Fox's KSAZ-TV Phoenix after interning there, has been named Student of the Year by the Emma L. Bowen Foundation. The foundation gives minority students the opportunity to intern with media companies during a five-year work/study program. They are also invited to Washington for a four-day Student Congress. Pictured (l-r): Foundation Chairman and Viacom station group head Dennis Swanson, foundation President/CEO Phylis Eagle-Oldson, and Martinez.