Rate cut gains ground

NAB fears provision as finance-reform bill goes to House floor

Defeating a bill that would require broadcasters and other media outlets to give politicians rock-bottom ad rates is proving tougher than expected, with broadcasters beginning to sound the alarm as legislation moves to the House floor.

"I think it is increasingly likely that, absent a full-blown effort by broadcasters, the provision will remain in the House-passed bill," says Jim May, NAB's top lobbyist. "If that happens, it is likely to become part of the final product."

The House Administration Committee last week voted out two versions of campaign-finance reform, one with the ad-rate cut and one without, making both versions ready for consideration on the House floor.

The first version, sponsored by Reps. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Marty Meehan (D-Mass.), closely mirrors a bill passed by the Senate. It includes language, sponsored by Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.), that would require broadcasters, cable operators and satellite-TV providers to offer candidates the lowest ad rate they had charged any advertiser in the previous 180 days (vs. 365 days in the Senate bill). Politicians would get those rates for 45 days before primaries and 60 days before general elections.

The committee passed the bill, though with an "unfavorable" vote, a procedural way of letting other committees and members know it disapproves of a bill without killing it altogether.

That disapproval notwithstanding, the vote was a sudden change in the way things had been going for broadcasters in the House. Two weeks ago, a hearing before the House Telecommunications and Internet Subcommittee found the entire panel opposing the bill, including full-committee leadership.

Then last week, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin (R-La.), ranking member John Dingell (D-Mich.), House Telecommunications and Internet Subcommittee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Rep. Gene Green (D-Tex.) sent a letter to the House Administration Committee and to the House's chief sponsors of campaign finance reform asking them to keep the language out (see page 25).

But that letter didn't stop Shays and Meehan from including a similar amendment in their bill, and it didn't stop the House Administration Committee from allowing the entire bill to proceed to the House floor intact.

Broadcasters now need to defeat the provision on the House floor, a much tougher task than amending legislation in committee.

Broadcasters still hope a bill introduced by House Administration Committee Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio) will garner enough support in the House to be passed instead of Shays-Meehan. That bill, which the committee also voted out, includes no deep discounts on ads and contains a disclosure provision that broadcasters back.