Will Campaign Reform Send Money To Papers?

By: Todd Shields

If the sweeping campaign-finance reform bill passed Thursday by the U.S. House of Representatives becomes law, it could divert advertising dollars into newspaper coffers.

Among other things, the reform bill bans unions, non-profits, and corporations from buying many late-campaign broadcast ads. The prohibition kicks in 60 days before a general election, and 30 days before a primary. It affects radio as well as broadcast, cable, and satellite TV transmissions.

But that leaves several possible routes for late-campaign spending. “There would be so much money to spend that you would do the mail, do the phones — and you do the newspaper,” said Peter Fenn, a principal of Fenn and King Communications, a major Washington campaign consultancy. “The newspaper guys would love it, because this is a good revenue stream.”

Newspapers now get only a fraction of broadcast’s share of political campaign spending. According to the Washington-based Alliance for Better Campaigns reform group, TV outlets took in more than $10 million in each of 23 metropolitan area markets in the 2000 presidential election year. Estimates of overall TV campaign spending in 2000 range from $750 million to $1 billion.

Newspapers look at that big advertising pot and want a share. The New Jersey Press Association for years has watched as candidates pour money into expensive Philadelphia and New York TV spots, while ignoring the association’s 17 dailies and more than 150 weeklies. If late-campaign broadcast restrictions take hold, “It would seem to me there would definitely be more opportunity for them to turn to newspapers … we could get a piece of the pie,” said John O’Brien, the association’s executive director.

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