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House torches Torricelli amendment

Candidates won't be getting deeper discounts on TV ad time after all.

Broadcasters won a major legislative victory Wednesday night when the House
voted 327-101 to strip language out of campaign-finance reform that would have
required local TV stations to sell advertising time to federal candidates at
bargain-basement prices.

The successful amendment, sponsored by Reps. Gene Green (D-Texas) and Richard
Burr (R-N.C.), eliminated language sponsored by Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.)
that was added to campaign-finance reform by the Senate last summer.

Just hours before the vote, Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) told broadcasters at a
Washington, D.C., conference to get on the phone and call their members because the
vote was going to be close.

It wasn't, and even during debate on the House floor, the ayes appeared to
have it.

"This amendment says that somehow, federal candidates are entitled to special
privileges, special rates, special time on the airwaves of America, while other
citizens are treated differently," House Energy and Commerce Committee
chairman Billy Tauzin (R-La.) said.

"Other people who want to speak in this country politically don't get those
breaks. Just federal candidates? Come on," he added.

On the other side of the aisle, Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) said that if
candidates paid less, local advertisers would wind up paying more: "What's going
to happen is the local advertisers, aside from me or aside from you, are going
to have to make up the difference. And I'm not going back into my district and
telling people that are trying to make a living, especially after Sept. 11, that
they've got to pay more so that people can listen to me."

Back in their headquarters, the National Association of Broadcasters popped
the champagne: "We're deeply appreciative of the strong bipartisan vote
stripping the Torricelli amendment from campaign-reform legislation that would
have done serious damage to local broadcasters," NAB president Eddie
Fritts said.