Valuable Common Resources Seized from Taxpayers
Save the Airwaves
One of our favorite periodicals, The Texas Observer, recently ran this editorial. We have added some comments.
by Jake Bernstein
During the final Texas gubernatorial debate, a reporter questioned candidate Tony Sanchez's profligate campaign spending. (As of October 28, Sanchez had spent $63.3 million, the bulk of which went to television advertising.) Before defending himself, Sanchez noted half-jokingly that panelist Wayne Slater's newspaper company, Belo, owned television stations. If they would just cut the rates they charged for commercials, the campaign wouldn't be so expensive. Slater just smiled. Both he and Sanchez know that such a proposal is not likely to happen.
[The Progress Report responds -- cute, but there's more to the story than TV ads. Were all political parties allowed to participate in the gubertnatorial debates? In most states, anti-Americans conspired to exclude some gubernatorial candidates, robbing the citizens of their right to democracy. For a terrible example, see the Maryland gubernatorial debate fiasco.]No company would deliberately reduce its own profits. And the mainstream media will never tell the American public the truth: Our nation's democracy is imperiled unless the airwaves are returned to their rightful owners.
It's estimated that $1 billion is being spent around the nation on political TV advertising this campaign cuycle. Some will trumpet this as a sign that free speech and democratic debate are alive and well. Ironically though, much of the advertising will be negative, which most analysts believe dampens turnout by turning off voters. All the money to pay for this annoying advertising blitz comes either from the deep pockets of wealthy want-to-be politicians or it's raised, usually, from special interests, who don't give money away for free.
Just ask the National Association of Television and Radio Broadcasters. As of October 16, their PAC had already "donated" $827,813 this election cycle. That included $50,000 bestowed on powerful Louisiana Rep. Billy Tauzin's "Bayou Leader" PAC -- during a fishing trip to the Florida Keys.
History shows that paying off polticians like Tauzin is a great investment. In 1996 Congress repaid the broadcast owners' largesss by giving every TV station in the nation a temporary license for a second channel at no charge. Had they auctioned the licenses instead, the sale would have put between $37 billion and $70 billion into the public coffers.
[The Progress Report responds -- actually, that estimate is low. A more likely figure is $110 billion, the largest corporate welfare giveaway in history. For a glimpse of how distorted, inefficient and uncompetitive the broadcast world can be, try this article for further information.]And the looting continues. All this money is helping people like Tauzin to forget that under U.S. law, the broadcast station owners do not own the airwaves -- the people do. The government gives broadcast station owners licenses in return for a pledge that they will serve the public interest.
[The Progress Report responds -- and the solution is so simple! Merely auction off broadcast license leases in the open market. Instead of setting up a corrupt giveaway system, let those who want a special privilege (exclusively controlling a slice of the airwaves) pay the market value of that privilege, to the public.]On October 17, a small bipartisan group of senators introduced modest legislation to begin the process of returning this precious natural resource to the public. They are calling it the Political Campaign Broadcast Activity Improvement Act. It will require every television and radio station to air at least two hours a week of candidate-centered or issue-centered programming during the period before election; it will enable qualifying federal candidates and national parties to receive up to $750 million worth of broadcast vouchers (financed by a user fee on broadcast station owners) to place politicial advertisements on television and radio stations in each two-year election cycle; and it will close loopholes that broadcasters employ to overcharge candidates for advertising rates.
[The Progress Report responds -- oh brother. Why do they want to make things so complicated? Forcing TV and radion stations to broadcast campaign ads doesn't sound like a very democratic solution. Moreover, who will get these discounted ads? Democrats and Republicans, of course -- do you suppose they will permit any other political parties to share? This new bill sounds like it will create as many corrupt problems as it solves.]"The key to campaign finance reform is the cost of television advertising, and this legislation would reduce the amount of money in politics by making the public airwaves more accessible for political speech," says Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), one of the sponsors.
Expect the boradcast station owners to fight back by ignoring the legislation in the media and using their powerful lobby to crush it in Congress.
Jake Bernstein is Associate Editor of the Texas Observer.
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