Broadcasters are throwing a lot of support–and money–to support the reelection campaign of Sen. Conrad Burns. Is that wise?
Montana Senator Conrad Burns is facing a tough fight for reelection this year. The Republican has at least two serious Democratic challengers, state Auditor John Morrison and state Senate President Jon Tester, and the Democratic Party appears determined to terminate Burns’ senate career in its quest to recapture a majority in the Senate. What’s more, he’s been connected to indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. I can already see those campaign spots.
Why should you care? A former broadcaster and a senior member of the Senate Commerce Committee, Burns has been an important and trusted ally of the broadcasting industry on many key issues. Broadcast lobbyists are expecting Burns to take their side on multicast must carry this year. And, in general, the Republican Senate has been good to broadcasting.
The real question is, how much should you care? With all the big issues of war and peace facing the United States—Iraq, homeland security, disaster preparedness, social security, etc.—should the broadcasting industry and representatives in Washington pour money into any congressman’s campaign based on how he might vote on digital must carry? Should they be working to keep the Senate in Republican hands?
The questions are moot. The fact is, the broadcast lobby is already in the Burns camp. NAB President David Rehr tells me that the association is backing Burns “150 percent.” NAB will engage in an “all out maximum effort” to help Burns win re-election, he says.
I’m not sure what that all means other than the NAB will funnel as much money as it can into the Burns campaign as it can. Let’s hope it does not mean that NAB will encourage the TV stations in Montana to skew their coverage of the election to benefit Burns or to endorse Burns simply because he is broadcast-friendly.
The Montana Republican is arming for the upcoming campaign. He already has a $3.3 million campaign war chest. And much of it has come from broadcasters. They have doled out more money to Burns than any other member of Congress during the 2005-06 campaign election cycle, according to a ranking compiled by opensecrets.org.
Some of the senator’s major contributors include: NAB’s TARPAC with $9,800; Clear Channel Communications, $8,000; News America Holdings (Fox), $8,000; Salem Communications, $4,000; Walt Disney Communications, $2,000; and Viacom, $1,000.
Broadcasters will have ample opportunity to keep contributing. The more adventurous can play and pay at the same time this weekend during the annual Burns Winterfest, at the Big Sky ski resort. This event may have a bonus: Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).
Burns is planning another fundraiser on March 27 at the Madison Hotel in Washington and President Bush is expected. Broadcasters can get their picture taken with the commander and chief if they write a check for $10,000 to Burns.
Let’s not forget that Burns has many friends in cable and telecommunications—that comes with the territory as an active Commerce Committee member. As one Washington insider see it, he’s not been the “running dog” of any one industry consistently. Burns is also the telcos’ favorite lawmaker with contributions of $84,700 listed so far, according to opensecrets.com. Burns is fifth with the cable industry at $25,650.
If broadcasters are determined to climb into bed with Burns, they might also remember that Burns has a tendency to be a bit of a lose cannon.
Take last Sunday for example: AP reports that Burns lashed out at President Bush. He said Bush has a skull of “solid granite,” for not changing his position on allowing a company owned by the United Arab Emirates to operate ports in the United States.
Now, maybe Burns scored some points with those Montanans who think the president is a bonehead. But, on the other hand, maybe he should hold his tongue since he’s counting on the president’s million dollar smile.