Anti-reform effort taken one step too far

March 10, 1998

An excerpt from a Wednesday Philadelphia Inquirer editorial.

CONGRESS, wallowing in special-interest contributions, not only won't fix the system that makes incumbents almost unbeatable, but also these insiders won't stand idly by while someone else tries to change the status quo.

The reform in question is free TV time for congressional candidates -- which would give challengers more publicity and might let candidates spend less time groveling for special-interest contributions.

Media interests

This policy is soundly based in the reality that the airwaves belong to the public, but it's touchy because camera-hungry pols don't dare to cross the TV networks or the stations back home.

The upshot: They recently snuffed out free TV time in the Senate. They did that by killing the McCain-Feingold bill -- which would have included free TV time only if the sponsors had broken a filibuster and then passed a strengthening amendment.

It gets worse. Now, the Republicans want to stop the Federal Communications Commission from using its own power to require free TV time for candidates.

It takes real chutzpah for Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and his colleagues -- snorkeling in the special-interest swamp -- to tell a federal agency not to do what it can to drain it. Unfortunately, a hero of the reform movement -- Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican -- is part of this anti-FCC tactic, thus giving it a whiff of credibility.

The Republicans sniff that the FCC, which Congress created, has no business trying to reform campaigns by requiring free TV time. This agency may not be the "ideal" engine for reform -- especially because the broadcast industry will argue the same thing in a legal marathon. But mandating reform is a legitimate function of the agency charged with regulating the public airwaves.

With the Senate settling once again for business as usual, and with the House likely this month to consider only a baby step toward cleaning up campaigns, the FCC ought to act on free TV time.

Pub Date: 3/10/98

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