GOP GETS BEHIND CAMERA FOR CONVENTION COVERAGE;AMWAY GRANT LETS PARTY MAKE TV BUYS VIA TOURISM BUREAU

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The Republicans, leery of how the networks and even C-SPAN will cover their convention, have found an unlikely candidate to buy time for GOP-produced programming: the tourism bureau of host city San Diego.

The taxpayer-funded San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau has agreed to spend nearly $1.5 million to buy time on cable outlets Family Channel, USA Network and NewsTalk Television.

GRANT FROM AMWAY

That money will actually come from a grant made by Amway Corp. While the coverage will include no commercial mention of that company, it will prominently tout the city of San Diego.

Republicans see the controversial move as a precedent made possible by changes in technology and as an answer to TV networks' declining coverage of political conventions.

"We think probably in the future all host committees will do this," said Mary Mead Crawford, press secretary for the Republican National Committee.

`IT STINKS'

The political opposition isn't as convinced.

"It stinks to high heaven," said Amy Weiss Tobe, press secretary to the Democratic National Committee.

The media buy includes 2 hours a night of coverage on Pat Robertson's Family Channel and also on NewsTalk Television during the first three nights of the Republican National Convention, starting on Aug. 12; 3 hours the fourth night; and a 1-hour wrap-up Aug. 16. USA will carry a daily half-hour program in the morning.

The coverage will be produced by the Republican National Committee's GOP-TV, the party's TV production arm, and feature GOP members of Congress as anchors and reporters.

MORE CONVENTION COVERAGE

Republican National Chairman Haley Barbour said the coverage will ensure voters get to see more of the convention, including tapes of voters talking about issues. The tapes are shown to those on the floor, but aren't always broadcast by C-SPAN.

C-SPAN, however, said it plans to broadcast the taped presentations.

"We will present the convention in its entirety," said Rich Fahle, C-SPAN press manager.

Mr. Barbour said no more than 10 minutes of any speech will be telecast, except for the acceptance speeches by the party's presidential and vice presidential nominees.

NO MONEY FROM TAXPAYERS

A spokesman for the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau conceded the media buy is unusual, but noted the money won't come from taxpayers.

"It's no different than a co-op piece," he said. "It's like the cooperative advertising we did with Mitsubishi Motors in Conde Nast Traveler or the one we did earlier with Cadillac [and CN Traveler] during the America's Cup. The programming may be produced by GOP-TV, but our benefit from the deal is that pictures and information on San Diego will be intermingled."

LEGAL QUESTIONS

The Democrats' Ms. Weiss Tobe countered that the San Diego convention bureau is a corporation and cannot legally buy media for a political party, let alone allow a corporation to pay for it.

"There is a huge difference between co-op advertising and this," she said. "This is governed by federal election laws, not the First Amendment."

The Democrats are considering a complaint to the Federal Election Commission.

The FEC last week was declining most comment. "We don't have any precedent for this," a spokesman said. "There is nothing in the laws or advisory opinions that specifically prohibits or allows it."

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