Broadcasters group opposes ad-rate language in Dems' campaign finance bill

The powerful lobbying arm of TV and radio broadcasters opposes language tucked into the Senate Democrats’ campaign finance bill unveiled earlier this week.

The measure is an attempt to blunt the impact of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which lifts limits on corporate and union spending on political advertisements.

While most of the bill is devoted to forcing corporations, unions and other groups to disclose any spending on political advertising, another provision would force television broadcasters to sell advertising to political parties at the lowest rate available for the particular media market where they are purchasing the ads.

Federal candidates already have the right to the lowest broadcast advertising rates available during the time they want to purchase. The new campaign finance bill would allow political parties to take advantage of the same rate guarantees as long as they spend at least $50,000 on airtime to run ads on broadcast, cable or satellite television that support or oppose a candidate.

Under the law, the broadcaster would also ensure that the candidate or political entity has “reasonable access” during “non-preemptible” airtime.

"NAB is reviewing the bill introduced…,” said spokesman Dennis Wharton. “We would have concerns with provisions in the legislation that would expand the lowest unit rate discounts now afforded federal candidates to political parties and political committees."

The bill’s authors argue the ad rate language would help candidates respond to attack ads.

A press release issued by Sen. Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerSenate panel splits along party lines on Becerra House Democrats' ambitious agenda set to run into Senate blockade A Biden stumble on China? MORE (D-N.Y.), the lead Senate sponsor of the bill, said the broadcasting rate provisions would “strengthen a candidate’s ability to respond to corporate attack ads by ensuring they can purchase air time at the lowest possible rate in the same media markets where these attacks ads are airing.”

While the latest summary of the Senate version of the bill includes the language, the House version left it out because its authors felt it fell under another committee’s jurisdiction.

“As we worked through drafting the legislation, it was deemed that Energy and Commerce was the best committee to deal with this,” said a House Democratic aide.

The House Administration and Senate Rules Committee have jurisdiction over campaign finance reform bill while the House Energy and Commerce and Senate Commerce panels deal with laws governing broadcasting.

Even before the bill was officially introduced, members of Congress were expressing caution about any new burdens it would impose on broadcasters.

When asked if he supported the Democratic response to Citizens United a week and a half ago, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) told The Hill in a brief interview that he had reservations about the campaign finance reform bill because of concerns he had heard about how it might impact the broadcasting industry.

Local television stations are just emerging from the deepest advertising recession felt in 50 years, broadcasters argue, and expanding the lowest unit rate guarantees to federal parties would result in a significant loss in revenue and may subject the legislation to difficult court challenges.

In the 1973 Supreme Court ruling in CBS v. Democratic National Committee, the Supreme Court made a comment that appears to bolster broadcasters’ case.

“[W]e see no principled means under the First Amendment of favoring access by political parties over other groups and individuals,” the court commented.