Facing several lawmakers' attempts to reduce candidates' ad expenditures, broadcast industry officials Wednesday said TV and radio stations aren't to blame for the high cost of political campaigns or the influence of special interests on elected officials.
Fending off a call by Sen. John McCain for broadcasters to give $750 million worth of airtime to candidates, officials of the National Association of Broadcasters told reporters that giving free air time is unconstitutional and unworkable. "Every single constitutional scholar who has looked at this issue has concluded that mandating free time is unconstitutional," said NAB counsel Jack Goodman.
Furthermore, he noted, many TV markets would be deluged with requests for free time and could not handle the demand. In the New York TV market, which covers 44 congressional districts "there are too many candidates and too few spots," he said.
McCain and the Alliance for Better Campaigns, will hold a press conference Thursday to make the case for free time.
The NAB also lashed out against calls to reduce the amount broadcasters can charge for political ads. The NAB complained that an Alliance study released last week incorrectly said broadcasters received $770 million from candidate ads in 2000 and steered candidates into high-priced ads rather than the lowest-costs spots.
Campaign consultant buy ads based on their strategic impact without regard to cost, NAB officials said. Even so, the requirements that stations offer ads to candidates at the lowest unit cost saved Senate campaigns 27% off average rates last year, they said. Because campaigns spend nearly all of the money they raise, a cap on political ads rates, such as the one being floated by Sens. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.) and Jon Corzine (D-N.J.), won't cut the cost of campaigns.
"I don't think there is a candidate in American that wouldn't like to spend less money per spot so they can buy more ads," said Jim May, NAB lobbyist. Corzine's support for ads caps is ironic because he spent $65 million of his money to get elected last fall.
- Bill McConnell