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Public Citizen Sees Hope in Gore Commission Call for Free TV for Candidates as Part of Campaign Finance Reform Legislation

Dec. 18, 1998

Public Citizen Sees Hope in Gore Commission Call for Free TV for Candidates as Part of Campaign Finance Reform Legislation

    WASHINGTON, D.C. — Public Citizen today endorsed the bipartisan Gore Commission?s recommendation that broadcasters provide free TV time for candidates as part of overall campaign finance reform legislation that would ban “soft money.” The Commission included representatives of the broadcast industry, who agreed with this position.

    “Free TV, in conjunction with meaningful campaign finance reform, can limit our political system?s dependence on big campaign contributions, help level the playing field between challengers and incumbents, and curb the epidemic of inflammatory and irresponsible attack ads,” said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. “The ball is now in the court of Senate Republican leaders, who have thwarted the will of majorities in both the House and the Senate by blocking real reform.”

    Claybrook, however, criticized the commission for failing to recommend that the Federal Communications Commission act independently to mandate free TV time for candidates even if reform legislation does not pass. “The broadcasters got up to a $70 billion windfall in free digital TV licenses in 1996,” she said. “The public deserves mandatory free TV for political candidates after taxpayers were so outrageously fleeced by the broadcasters.”

    Fifteen of the 22 members of the Gore Commission favored mandatory free TV regardless of the outcome of legislation. But that fell short of the consensus needed to be included as a final recommendation.

    In lieu of FCC regulations to require free TV, the Commission recommended only that broadcasters voluntarily provide five minutes of free time per night for candidates within 30 days of an election. Claybrook said the recommendation is unlikely to sway the substantial number of broadcasters who continue to resist a free TV requirement independent of overall reform. She promised Public Citizen will “keep up the pressure for free TV by monitoring broadcasters? response to the voluntary free time recommendation.”

    Claybrook said that the willingness of broadcasters to be part of overall campaign finance reform would weaken the arguments of Senate leaders who last year blocked final passage of the McCain-Feingold reform bill. The bill passed the House and was favored by a Senate majority.

    “The Republican leaders in the Senate have been claiming the bill?s ban on unlimited, unregulated special-interest contributions to political parties and sham ?issue ads? is a threat to free speech,” Claybrook said. “But the TV industry has now undercut their spurious rationale by agreeing to offer candidates free time as part of campaign finance reform legislation.”