July 8, 1998
Mr. Richard Lewis
2222 Dorothy Ave
Louisville, Kentucky 40205
Dear Mr. Lewis:
Thankyou for your continued interest in issues of vital concern to
the nation. The media
influence issue is particularly salient in light of the ongoing debate in the House of
Representatives over the ability of private citizens, candidates, groups and parties to have a voice
in the governing of our nation.
The voluminous materials you sent on the media's unique advantage
in our society and the
growing prevalence of foreign ownership in that industry reaffirms my long-held views that they
should not be left out of the campaign finance equation. You are no doubt well-aquainted with
section 431 (9) (B) (i) of the federal election campaign finance law which stipulates that, for
purposes of federal regulation, the term "expenditure" does not include: "any news story,
commentary, or editorial distributed through the facilities of any broadcasting station,
newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publican, unless such facilities are owned or
controlled by any political party, political committee, or candidate."
makes a distinction where there is no real difference: the media is extremely powerful by any measure, a "special interest" by any definition, and heavily engaged in the "issue advocacy" and "independent expenditure" realms of political persuasion that most editorial boards find so objectionable when anyone other than a media outlet engages in it. To illustrate the absurdity of this special exemption the media enjoys, I frequently cite as an example the fact that if the RNC bought NBC from GE the FEC would regulate the evening news and, under the McCain-Feingold "reform" bill, Tom Brokaw could not mention a candidate 60 days before an election. This is patently absurd.
Had the Senate debate on the McCain-Feingold bill advanced to the point of amendments, among the first I offered would have been one to delete section 431(9)(B)(i). Whenever the opportunity presents itself in the future, I look forward to doing just that. I believe it would be an enlightening discussion. Indeed, the issue was frequently raised during the floor debates in 1997 and 1998 and helped to crystallize for Senators and the C-SPAN viewing audience that the campaign finance debate is, indeed, a discussion of core constitutional freedom."
There is ample evidence that the American people are quite
amenable to restrictions on
the media. I am fond of citing these surveys to reporters as their newspapers eagerly note polls
showing support for restrictions on everyone else's ability to participate in our democracy. A
Ramussen Research survey found that 80 percent of those polled would like to restrict the way
newspapers cover political campaigns. 68 percent believe that newspaper editorials are more
important than a $1000 contribution. 61 percent believe that a candidate favored by reporters
will beat a candidate who raises more money. 42 percent believe that newspapers should be
required to install an equal number of Republicans and Democrats on their editorial boards. A
study by the American Society of Newspaper Editors found that a majority would require
journalists to obtain a license to practice, as lawyers and doctors currently must. A majority
would empower judges to impose fines for "inaccurate and biased reporting" and would establish
government entities to compel the media to equalize coverage of controversial issues.
Fortunately, the First Amendment precludes such regulation, but the presence of such an anti-
media sentiment should be of some concern to the press. After all, it was only last year that the
Senate defeated (incredibly, 38 Senators voted for it) a constitutional amendment to empower the
federal and state governments to restrict all expenditures "by, in support of, or in opposition to"
candidates. As the American Civil Liberties Union pointed out, that broad mandate encompasses
I would urge you to watch the ongoing House campaign finance
reform debate carefully. It has
been a stop- and- go- debate with a day or two of campaign finance amendments interrupted by as
much as a week of other legislative business. However, there will be several days of debate in
the next month and it is anticipated that there wil be at least one vote on an amendment to delete
the media exemption in FECA, altogether. It promises to be a vigorous discussion. An
amendment to refine the exemption to address the matter of foreign ownership would be a useful
exercise, as well. With the increased interest on our side of the aisle with the media component
in the campaign finance debate, I would not be surprised if such amendment were offered.
Again, thank you for putting the materials together.