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Question of the day

Tuesday, Nov 30, 2010

* The setup

In all, candidates and political committees spent an estimated $3 billion airing television, radio and Internet commercials in local, state and federal races, up from $2.7 billion in 2008 and $2.4 billion in 2006, according to Campaign Media Analysis Group, a division of Kantar Media that tracks political advertising.

About two-thirds of the money — an estimated $2 billion — was used to purchase airtime from local television stations.

* The Question: Should FCC regulated television and radio stations be obligated to give much larger discounts to political candidates, or even offer free air time? Explain.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Cheryl44 - Tuesday, Nov 30, 10 @ 11:02 am:

    They should be able to charge political candidates/committees *more* than they charge anyone else. Maybe we wouldn’t be deluged with political ads in the weeks leading up to an election.

  2. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Nov 30, 10 @ 11:05 am:

    In a Free Market … if you are one of the “Rich” candidates, and you are self-funding, do you get an even MORE special rate? No. It is what the market will bare, and if you are desperate enough to get on-air, you will pay the freight.

    No discount, no special rate, if you can get on-air, good for you.

  3. - UISer - Tuesday, Nov 30, 10 @ 11:10 am:

    There should be a special rate that apply to all viable political candidates. By viable, I mean the major party candidates.

    There are groups out there arguing for campaign reform, this would be a great way to take some of the money out of politics. In addition, as a trade off for the discount, there could be limits placed on the amount of commericials that are allowed to run for a given race (i.e. more for a Congressional race, less for a State Rep. race.)

  4. - 47th Ward - Tuesday, Nov 30, 10 @ 11:12 am:

    I’d support giving candidate committees a more generous discount than 527s or IEs. In fact, I wouldn’t give IEs any discount until they disclose their donors.

    As for free air time, we can dream, can’t we? except then you run into the problem of what to do about Rich Whitney, Mike Labno, et al. At what threshold do you determine eligibility for free air time?

    While we might get some entertainment out of it (the rent is too damn high), doling out free TV time would be very problematic for the stations.

  5. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Nov 30, 10 @ 11:14 am:

    ===there could be limits placed on the amount of commericials that are allowed to run for a given race===

    What about freedon of speech … you only get your message out “5″ times? That doesn’t sound like a free election, sounds like a socialism style “everyone the same” in a given race.

    Money is the Mother’s Milk of politics, and if you can’t raise it then you can’t run, and if you CAN raise it, you should be able to spend it, legally, in any way possible, including media, without limitations.

  6. - shore - Tuesday, Nov 30, 10 @ 11:16 am:

    No. For all the whining about money in politics I submit to you joe walsh, kinzinger, hultgren and schilling all of which were outspent. with the internet and new media there are now lots of ways to raise money and get a message out. there’s no need for discounts in the name of “good government”.

    plus I for one really don’t want anything that will INCREASE the number of ads.

  7. - Lakefront Liberal - Tuesday, Nov 30, 10 @ 11:17 am:

    How about this — they give an equal ammount of free air time to all candidates in a given race (if they meet some threshold of viability) AND no additional air time beyond this could be purchased. That would really take money out of campaigns (what would there be to raise money for?) and would hugely level the playing field. It would probably produce a more informed electorate as well.

  8. - No Peotone Airport - Tuesday, Nov 30, 10 @ 11:22 am:

    Why stop at air time? Let’s give them free rent for their campaign office, free utilities, free phones, free billboards, free printing, free postage, and free anything else they’re presently compelled to purchase. No paid staff or consultants, either. If someone’s going to the trouble of running for office, all their prospective vendors should be happy to suspend making their living for the duration of the campaign.

  9. - UISer - Tuesday, Nov 30, 10 @ 11:23 am:

    =Money is the Mother’s Milk of politics, and if you can’t raise it then you can’t run, and if you CAN raise it, you should be able to spend it, legally, in any way possible, including media, without limitations.=

    This is just a fundamental disagreement that we have. Elections should not be sold to the highest bidder. The FCC allows for public use of the airwaves on the major networks, so only those networks should be effected in any type of deal. There will be the ability to spend like crazy on Fox News or the Food Network, but the public airwaves should’nt have to be bought by a particular candidate.

    =No. For all the whining about money in politics I submit to you joe walsh, kinzinger, hultgren and schilling all of which were outspent.=

    Come on Shore, you don’t really believe that. All of these candidates were propped up by outside groups that spent a ton of money on each race, especially Schilling.

  10. - Peter - Tuesday, Nov 30, 10 @ 11:25 am:

    @UISer - There already is a special rate: my lowest. I can’t charge a candidate less than my lowest rate for their chosen time period. You can’t buy morning drive for 3:00 AM rates, but you’re still taking avails at the lowest for-profit cost. We had a busy October this year, our best month in ages even without the political bump, and if I had any more political buys I don’t know what I would have done. No room. Give a politician the same money and cheaper rates, and they’ll just buy more time (which goes to answer the question: no, the system is fine as it is now.)

    We’re one of the few small market radio stations who still care about public affairs (State Rep and Senator, mayors, county commissioners, state agency people live in studio for calls once a month) and it’s a struggle in this economy when we could just strip down, go satellite with a little local sports, and maybe make just about as much money (with higher margin after you cut those nasty costs like live call-in public affairs programs.) I don’t want to gouge those running for offices, but cutting it cheaper is playing with fire.

    Free time opens up a huge Pandora’s Box. I’d blow my brains out before trying to navigate that mess.

  11. - WRMNpolitics - Tuesday, Nov 30, 10 @ 11:25 am:

    Politicians can generally get the lowest rates charged by the stations by FCC regulation.The rates are available to all candidates. Media outlets, although federally regulated are for profit businesses. The only “product” they have to sell is time, which is a perishable commodity. Why should broadcast outlets, be required to provide “free” product when other competing advertising methods are not. Candidates have a variety of means to get out their message and plan their media strategies and raise funds accordingly.

  12. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Nov 30, 10 @ 11:36 am:

    I have yet to see EVERY winner be the one who spent the MOST money.

    Freedom of Speech - if you limit a candidate to any number of opportunities to be in paid media, then aren’t you denying Freedom of Speech?

    Since when is running for office a “right”? You do have a right to run for office, given you meet all criteria, but what “right” do you have to get “required equal” access to the airwaves, and further, a limited amount of access to get YOUR message out? So, you have a “right” to paid media, AND a right to limit your opponent’s access, only if it equals yours????

    Money is a measurement of strength in a campaign. It is. What is one of the first questions asked about a candidate, and further, what is one of the first thing guys like Rich looks at … what does a candidate have in the bank. Why? Viability.

    You can’t deny someone the freedom to spend money on their races, just as you can’t deny an opponent limited paid media. That is not a free election, sounds more like an Orwellian “Animal Farm” equal, but some are more equal than others …

    Free-Market … raise some cash, and go at it!

  13. - Ghost - Tuesday, Nov 30, 10 @ 11:36 am:

    I dont think TV or radio stations should be required to subsidize a political campaign just becauseof the business they choose to run.

    Nor should companies with large bill boards or buildings be required to provide space for free or low cost for political messages or advertisents.

  14. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Nov 30, 10 @ 12:04 pm:

    –Why stop at air time? –

    Public airwaves.

  15. - zatoichi - Tuesday, Nov 30, 10 @ 12:16 pm:

    You choose to run and the price to be paid includes the real costs for things you buy during the campaign. Ads, signs, handouts. Can’t pay it? Don’t run or work harder to get more supporters.

  16. - Responsa - Tuesday, Nov 30, 10 @ 12:35 pm:

    Campaigns already get to circumvent the “DO NOT CALL” list– a perk helpfully slipped in and granted by congressional politicians, which is essentially like getting free advertising. FCC should stay out of it. No discounts or free air time for political ads.

  17. - Cook County Commoner - Tuesday, Nov 30, 10 @ 12:37 pm:

    No. Federal government functions as an oligarchy, primarily answering to special interests. The FCC is part of the government, and therefore it is vulnerable to manipulation by whichever special interest holds sway. As useless and tasteless I may find most media campaign advertising, putting the FCC in charge is like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse. Let the campaigns and media providers haggle out whatever terms they want. A candidate for the US Presidency should pay the same media rate as would the company that sells the pocket fisherman. If there are low budget candidates out there with fresh ideas, they don’t need to soil themselves on major media. The internet will provide a forum, and they will be found. And the money will come in, and they too can then damage their reputations on FCC controlled media.

  18. - nah - Tuesday, Nov 30, 10 @ 12:43 pm:

    The only candidates that free airtime will help are kooks like Andy Martin or Mike Labno. They’ll never have a shot no matter how much free airtime they get so why bother?

  19. - Gregor Samsa - Tuesday, Nov 30, 10 @ 12:47 pm:

    Absolutely; this has been my particular hobby-horse since I started reading this blog.

    Broadcast media has gone into the toilet since deregulation and abandonment of the Fairness Doctrine. When the FCC was created out of the Dept. of Commerce, it was established that the airwaves (today we’d call it “bandwidth” or more properly, “Spectrum”) was the nation’s national resource, one with natural limits due to physics. As part of getting a broadcast license, allowing them to use their allotment of that spectrum to sell people things, it was understood that broadcasters in turn had a duty and obligation to serve the public good in exchange for what is essentially a license to print money.

    That duty and obligation was expressed thru a percentage of their airtime devoted to “public service programming”. Election coverage was part of this. News was part of this. A loss leader, but seen as the quid for the pro quo.

    Then broadcasters got greedy.
    Especially under Reagan, and ever since, they continued to erode their responsibilities and claimed that market forces would be adequate to enforce the social compact. We see the results. No, a natural monopoly like broadcast spectrum is not something that plays by the proper rules of capitalism. We never should have let that happen.

    And this directly leads us to the poster child for my scrred: Blago.

    Why did Blago need to raise over twenty million bucks? To buy that TV airtime he used to destroy Vallas and Topinka. To get the money to buy the airtime, he sold the entire state a piece at a time. It is just how life is, that raising big money leads to the people with the money calling all the shots, and this is completely anti-American. It short-circuits the democratic process and turns it into a commercial capital process.

    What I want is for all the officially recognized candidates to get an equal but limited amount of free air time on TV and radio. Take the cost of the media buys out of the equation. Also, stations would be duty-bound to air debates. Considering they make money off of us 365 days a year, they can afford to do this “charity” work every 2 years for a campaign season.

    This might also stimulate more revenue for newspapers, helping bring them back from the edge.

    Will it happen? Doubtful, the broadcasting and ad lobby is very strong, and fighting them without antitrust legislation is like that old saw about getting into a letter writing fight with a newspaper publisher that buys ink by the barrel. They have all the advantages now, and you can bet they will work to keep and extend them. We are the ones who suffer, with poor service in the distribution of news and information to base our elections on.

    As long as it costs money to run political ads, we’re really just ruled by oligarchs.

  20. - silverback - Tuesday, Nov 30, 10 @ 1:04 pm:

    Why don’t we just Nationalize all business? How many other businesses do we make give their product or service away?

  21. - So IL Student - Tuesday, Nov 30, 10 @ 1:09 pm:

    At least a discounted rate. I believe the high cost of this kind of stuff is stifling some debates, and thus setting up a road block for a democratic environment.

    In an era of blurbs, 30 second news cuts, and CNN homepage-style newspapers, we need information. Lower the costs and increase advertising. I say, the more the better. Maybe something like this will yield a better informed electorate. That is not to say that all the ads will be jam-packed full of useful information, but it will lead to conversation and that is something the nation is lacking.

  22. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Nov 30, 10 @ 1:14 pm:

    –Why don’t we just Nationalize all business?–

    Again, public airwaves.

  23. - silverback - Tuesday, Nov 30, 10 @ 1:15 pm:

    Why not prohibit radio and tv adv. for political campaigns altogether. Make the written word the standard. Maybe their lies would be easier to keep track of and harder for them to deny.

  24. - Living In Oklahoma - Tuesday, Nov 30, 10 @ 1:24 pm:

    Absolutely Not. Broadcast Media already has to give politicians the cheapest rate that they have offered in the previous ten years. I can only imagine the tsunami of ads that I would get in my e.mail box if I had to give away the air time to politicians. Don’t think media owners don’t have political agendas as well. At least there is motivation for programmers and owners to take advertising dollars from both sides now.

    If stations have to “give away” the air time, who do you think are going to get the majority of this free air time? Its going to be those candidates that nuzzle up to the media and the media agenda.

    Furthermore, who is going to schedule, record and produce all the “free” ads. Is someone going to send me a check so that I can pay the extra labor costs that will come with election season? I doubt it, as usual a great idea on paper that no one has thought through.

  25. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Nov 30, 10 @ 2:17 pm:

    “It short-circuits the democratic process and turns it into a commercial capital process.”–

    Capitalism is not anti-American, capitalism has found extemely fertile ground here. And America is not a democracy. America is a representative republic (thank you Texas School Board). Those raising funds and campaigning for office do so on the capitalist ideal, not a small-d democratic one. Campaign funds are investments, not charity donations.

  26. - Ghost of John Brown - Tuesday, Nov 30, 10 @ 2:24 pm:


    Like it or not, part of the cash that candidates accumulate is a sign of the support that they get. I know, some if it is from corporations or unions, but that also indicates a certain level of support. We have fringe candidates (oh, how I would like to name names) that don’t have support, but would love a loud microphone. The trouble is, that there are already WAY too many voices during the election cycle and it is hard for any candidate to get their message out. If all of the fringe candidates get money (or discounts), then it will make getting the message out even harder.

    What WOULD be helpful is to somehow limit the amount that “self funders” can throw at a campaign. We’ve had plenty of those in the last decade - none have done well, but they have drowned out many good candidates.

  27. - Concerned Observer - Tuesday, Nov 30, 10 @ 3:07 pm:

    I’m actually with the first response. The prices need to go UP. I’d prefer to see them fixed at the *highest* regular rate charged within the past 60/90 days (per daypart/program, of course).

    The cost of airtime hasn’t risen nearly fast enough to keep up with the massive amounts of money being poured into political campaigns.

  28. - Peter - Tuesday, Nov 30, 10 @ 3:16 pm:

    @Gregor Samsa: So what about those broadcasters that still exist in the spirit of public service? That do live, local election coverage - even on primary night. That not only cover state and local news but give a chance for the locals to speak directly to their reps, their county commissioners, their mayor, etc. That do more than just play PSAs or mention the time of the local blood drive, but hold fundraisers and give any local group with an effort a chance to promote it at no cost. And all of this has us operating on razor thin margins since our rates aren’t really any different from twenty years ago because the market won’t bear it.

    You’re going to punish us because of the Clear Channels and Sinclairs of the world? Bad form.

    Better solution: the FCC starts making the big boys live up to their license requirements rather than using them as jukeboxes with a generic public affairs program ran at 6:00 am on Sunday and an operating EAS that two people in the building - no, company - know how to operate.

  29. - Cincinnatus - Tuesday, Nov 30, 10 @ 4:18 pm:

    Doesn’t matter if it is a political ad or toilet paper (which when used closely resembles the former). An ad is an ad is an ad and should not have any special limitations based on content.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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