Broadcasters got a little wake-up call on Wednesday when the Senate passed 70-30 an amendment, sponsored by Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.), to campaign finance reform that would require TV stations to always provide candidates non-preemptible ad time at the lowest-unit rate.
"The Senate has voted itself a multimillion-dollar windfall," said NAB President Eddie Fritts. "The Torricelli amendment will not reduce the cost of campaigns, but rather will unleash a torrent of negative attack ads. Only in Washington can this be called reform."
Paul Taylor, executive director of the Alliance for Better Campaigns and someone Senators frequently referred to during their debate, wasted no time taking on NAB directly.
"The Senate should be congratulated for facing down one of Washington's most powerful lobbies, the National Association of Broadcasters," said Paul Taylor, executive director of the Alliance of Better Campaigns. "By a 70-30 vote, the Senate made it clear that it will no longer tolerate an industry using billions of dollars worth of public airwaves that it has been granted free of charge to profiteer on democracy by gouging candidates on their ad rates."
Torricelli accused broadcasters of "gouging" politicians and spiking up the cost of campaigning in a well-researched speech made on the Senate floor Wednesday morning.
"Television stations have developed a dependency, indeed an addiction, on political advertising that is not in the public interest," Torricelli said.
"Television advertising has become the mother's milk of politics," said another co-sponsor, Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.)
Other Senators that stood up to support the measure included Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who said she raised $20 million in her last election cycle and much of that went to TV time, and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), who said spending on TV in her Senate campaign earned her the title of "modern-day Santa Claus."
Three Senators spoke against the bill during the debate: Sens. Don Nickles (R-Okla.), Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).
"How many other industries are we asking to lower their rates for the sake of political activities?" said Burns.
"This amendment is worth millions to candidates," said Nickles.
The amendment-sponsored by Torricelli, Dorgan, Jon Corzine (D-N.J.) and Richard Durbin (D-Il.)-is now attached to the larger campaign finance reform package (S.27), sponsored by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) and Thad Cochran (R-Miss.). The overall bill's major aim is to eliminate all "soft money," which is unlimited corporate contributions to political parties. A vote on the McCain-Feingold package is expected next Friday.
- Paige Albiniak