As part of the overhaul, Gingrich suggested looking "at lobbying, at campaigns, at parties, at the behavior of incumbents, of the nature of Washington, what is happening as we shift into an information age."
"I think, candidly, there are grave threats to the survival of American freedom and self-government as we know it," he said at a House Oversight Committee hearing on campaign finance revision.
In addition to media oligarchies, Gingrich also cited as threats the rise of foreign money, an increase in wealthy candidates purchasing offices, the decay of political parties, and a growing feeling of isolation among citizens in the information age.
Gingrich proposed the establishment of a bipartisan "commission on power and political reform in the information age, not narrowly on campaigns."
The speaker explained that, "What we need to look at is that candidates and parties need money to introduce themselves to the public, and yet today we have an inappropriate system of finding the money."
Quoting a 1987 paper by a University of Minnesota professor, Gingrich noted that the "inherent bias" of the "guilty-until-proven-innocent approach" that confronts candidates can affect campaign finance coverage and lead to "sloppy and inaccurate stories."
"That is, ABC News, owned by Disney, is not a special interest," he explained. "So a multimillionaire broadcaster on ABC News being given free access to the American people doesn't represent political power.
"On the other hand," he continued, "a thousand dollars [check] written by the broadcaster's spouse is political power."
"It is simply a nonsensical, socialist analysis based on hatred of the free-enterprise system, and I think it is fundamentally false."
Gingrich asked the congressional panel to ask itself, "What does it cost a citizen who wishes to seek election to market one's self, given the scale of the modern media?
"Let me give you an example I live with," he said.
"The Cox sisters own the largest television station in my area, the largest radio station in my area, and the only major daily newspaper in the state of Georgia," he asserted. "They have all three.
"Now, they don't give any contributions to my opponent, but I would guess that over half the money I raise is spent offsetting the weight of their newspaper," Gingrich said.
"I think any Republican from Iowa would tell you that the Des Moines Register so dominates the politics of their state that they have to spend a third to half of their campaign offsetting the Des Moines Register," he added.
"Now, it's perfectly natural for the news media to want campaign spending limits. That means more power for editorial writers, more power for columnists, more power for reporters, but it means less ability for citizens outside that newspaper's biases in order to answer and respond to the publication," Gingrich said.
Comparing the cost of a recent advertising campaign for stomach antacids to political ads, Gingrich pointed out that, "Congressional spending for all the congressional seats was $600 million. That's 435 House seats and 33 Senate seats, [which was] the equivalent to two [$300 million] antacid campaigns."
Gingrich argued that the political system is not overfunded but is underfunded, and that the Federal Election Commission "in its current form is, frankly, profoundly destructive."
Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) agreed with Gingrich that if "[I] had to depend on the Knight-Ridder newspaper in my community to cover what we are doing up here, I really don't think that, come campaign time, it would be possible to counter, not only the editorials but the slants on a continuous basis of the articles that the newspaper produces throughout the two years."
The congressman did, however, note that in his community, "we are very fortunate that there are some fair and objective people that happen to own a small newspaper or a radio station or that happen to manage a television station and permit the message to be communicated to the people."
California Rep. Vic Fazio (D) pointed out that "most of us realize that we have contributed greatly with the money we raise and spend in campaigns toward the negative attitude that people have about us, the process, and governing itself."
Noting that it is a First Amendment problem, Fazio wondered whether Gingrich would support some regulation of television ads "so that we avoid the relentless negative which turns off everyone."
Gingrich said he would be willing to look at it, while considering the right of free speech, and added that he does think "there is something inherently wrong with a system where [if] you have the right smear for the last four days, you undo two or three years of hard, sincere work, and somebody who doesn't have a clue what they are doing can buy an office . . . with 50.1% of the vote because they had the best hired gun."
Nevertheless, Gingrich pointed out, people can rent videos or change channels and could "simply manage to find a new way to avoid the information . . . . But I think we could be more creative in moving towards an information-filled campaign rather than a smear-filled campaign, and I would like to see that on the table very much."
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By: Debra Gersh Hernandez SPEAKER OF THE House Newt Gingrich, calling for "a very profound overhaul of our political system," recently told a House committee that among the threats to that system is the "rise of media oligarchies."