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WASHINGTON ( -- During a debate on campaign finance reform, the U.S. Senate on March 21 overwhelmingly approved by a 70 to 30 vote an amendment to legislation proposed by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Russell Feingold, D-Wis., that would force broadcasters to charge political candidates the lowest prices for political spots during election time.

The legislative move could conceivably have some impact on commercial advertisers as well.

Although campaign laws for the past 30 have required stations to charge the "lowest unit cost" to political candidates, in recent years broadcasters sidestepped the statutes by setting their lowest rates for preemptable ads and then creating a separate, higher rate for units of "non-preemptable ads" sought by political candidates.

Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., who sponsored the amendment, and a number of other senators said the proposal would merely force broadcasters to fulfill the law.

For marketers, the question is what the impact of the move will be if the legislation is approved.

Broadcasters could respond by giving political candidates the same lowest unit cost currently offered to some commercial marketers, or they could respond by raising those rates so both commercial and political advertisers pay higher prices.

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