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Free Air Time Needed to Break Special Interest Stranglehold

June 19, 2002

Free Air Time Needed to Break Special Interest Stranglehold

Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook, Delivered at Press Conference with Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) and Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.)

Free TV and radio air time for congressional candidates would significantly strengthen our democracy. Candidates wishing to represent the interests of the great majority of our people, and not be beholden to corporate PACs, would find it feasible to run for office. Challengers, who lack officeholders? power to extract campaign cash from wealthy special interests, would have the capacity to communicate their ideas to voters.

Free air time would give the public wider choices. It?s just not healthy for American democracy that in the last election we had an incumbent re-election rate of 98 percent in the House and 80 percent in the Senate.

Public Citizen has long supported free air time as an ingredient of comprehensive campaign finance reform that would include voluntary spending limits and public financing. Since public financing of congressional elections is not imminent, Congress should quickly pass free air time legislation to make congressional races more competitive and reduce candidate dependence on special interest money.

The biggest obstacle to this sensible reform is the broadcast lobby. The tens of millions that broadcasters spend to curry favor with politicians and lobby Congress have placed them in a privileged position. But it?s time for them to be required to meet their public service obligations by allocating a small fraction of time on the public airwaves to facilitate competitive elections. After all, that?s what happens in virtually every other industrial democracy in the world.

We plan to work with Congress and the many citizens? groups that are part of this coalition to fashion the strongest possible legislative proposal and mobilize the public behind it.