Power Shift in Congress Would Change Political Climate for Advertisers

What Key Races, Committee Shifts Might Mean for Advertisers and Media

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It's safe to say that Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren and Missouri Republican Todd Akin have very different views on reproductive issues. But it turns out they both take similar positions on tightening regulations regarding internet privacy. Incumbent Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Scott Brown, R-Mass., the candidates Mr. Brown and Ms. Warren are looking to unseat, are strongly opposed to such regulation.

And that 's one of the reasons advertising, publishing and marketing observers are reluctant to predict how Election Day results may affect the industry, especially with so many close races and a restive electorate.

The Democratic-controlled Senate is in play. The Republican-led House of Representatives, not so much.

Democrat Warren and Republican Akin share similar views on internet privacy.
Democrat Warren and Republican Akin share similar views on internet privacy.

Dick O'Brien, exec VP-government relations for the 4A's, said that if the GOP keeps the House and takes over the Senate, "a less-activist agenda" would benefit advertisers. "The pace would quiet down," Mr. O'Brien said.

That would be a shift from what he called "intense legislative and regulatory activity" in the first two years of President Barack Obama's administration, when Democrats had the lock on the House and Senate.

Democrats lost control of the House two years ago. To keep control of the Senate, they must defend 23 seats. The GOP, meanwhile, needs a net gain of four seats to win control of the Senate, and many analysts think that 's possible. Eight Senate races are tossups.

"It could go either way," said Thomas Mann, senior fellow at Washington think tank the Brookings Institution.

For Democrats to win control of the House, they would need to pick up at least 25 additional seats. Most political observers say that 's not likely.

But Linda Woolley, CEO of the Direct Marketing Association, pointed out that the political futures of certain individuals are more important than which party controls Congress. Direct marketers concerned with new restrictions on internet data have friends and enemies on both sides of the aisle.

Ms. McCaskill and Mr. Brown are Exhibits A and B. "Those elections are examples of when an individual member can make a difference," Ms. Woolley said.

Rita Cohen, senior VP-legislative and regulatory policy for the Magazine Publishers of America, said control of Congress won't mean much if there's a move to scrap the tax deduction for advertising costs.

"Tax reform and deficit reduction still have to be dealt with, no matter the results of the election," she said. "And both parties say they want to look at all deductions."

Where It Makes a Difference
But a change in key committee leadership next year may make a difference. The two congressional panels in charge of tax issues are the Ways and Means Committee, now chaired by Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., and the Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.

If the GOP takes over the Senate, the finance panel would be chaired by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, or Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who are more business-friendly. In addition, Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., would likely control the Senate Commerce Committee, which has authorization over most of the agencies that regulate advertisers, including the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission. One of Mr. DeMint's first jobs was at an ad firm and he ran his own marketing company for 15 years.

The current chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, Sen. John D. Rockefeller, D-W.Va., has pressed for greater consumer protections on the web.

Because Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., is retiring, he will no longer head the Senate Homeland and Governmental Reform Committee. As chairman of that panel, Mr. Lieberman has championed a postal-reform bill backed by the nation's mass mailers. His likely replacements, Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., or Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, are co-sponsors of Mr. Lieberman's bill and are expected to continue the efforts to save the cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service and keep mailing rates from soaring, Ms. Cohen said.

Industry lobbyists will stay up election night watching for the returns of close races involving congressional foes and allies. But beyond that , Mr. O'Brien of the 4A's said trying to determine the direction of a new Congress "is a little bit like crystal-ball gazing."

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