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WASHINGTON-The religious right may emerge from last week's Republican tidal wave in Congress as a serious threat to advertisers and media.

After failing to sway a Democrat-controlled Congress, conservatives and fundamentalists now find a more receptive audience in Washington for morality-based complaints about issues ranging from TV violence to alcohol advertising.

"I think we're going to hear a lot from the Christian right about TV violence, as well as about the possibility of advertiser boycotts," said Hal Shoup, exec VP at the American Association of Advertising Agencies.

Even though the Republican tidal wave was considered mostly good news for business and advertising, there's also concern that GOP promises of tax cuts might mean new business taxes that could fall on advertisers.

"Don't forget that it was in 1986, during a Republican administration, that a Republican Treasury secretary [Nicholas Brady] and a Republican Senate Finance Committee chairman [Robert Packwood] first put advertising's tax deductibility on the table as an issue," noted Jim Davidson, a Washington tax lobbyist for the advertising, broadcast and publishing industries.

Sen. Packwood (R., Ore.) is expected to regain the Finance Committee chairmanship in the next Congress.

Major beneficiaries of the political revolt should be tobacco, food and drug marketers. After years of congressional pummeling, tobacco marketers find the relevant House and Senate committees headed by likely allies; expected to be chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee is Rep. Thomas Bliley (R., Va.), whose district includes Philip Morris' headquarters.

"He believes as we do that if you make a legal product and tell the truth, then you should have the right to speak to the consumer," said Walker Merryman, VP, Tobacco Institute. "I can't see conservatives wasting time on tobacco when there are real life-and-death decisions to be made."

And, Mr. Merryman said, Congress will now oppose attempts by Dr. David Kessler, head of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, to gain regulatory jurisdiction over tobacco and its advertising.

"Prospects for tobacco legislation getting through without considerable public pressure just won't happen," said Scott Ballin, VP, Coalition on Smoking OR Health. "But we will still encourage Dr. Kessler to act-unilaterally if he has to. And if he won't, we'll take him to court."

At the Senate Commerce Committee, Sen. Larry Pressler (R., S.D.) is in line to be chairman.

"We've built up good relations with [Sen.] Pressler...and [he] has said he was favorably disposed to our issues," said Wally Snyder, president, American Advertising Federation. "And the new chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Orrin Hatch (R., Utah), is a firm believer in advertising."

Alcohol advertisers will wait to see if Sen. Strom Thurmond (R., S.C.) resurrects his legislation for health warnings in alcohol ads, which was opposed by alcohol, advertising, broadcasting and cable industries. "If he takes the chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee, [Sen.] Thurmond will ... be in a strengthened position for anything he wants to do," said Association of National Advertisers Exec VP Dan Jaffe.

But it was worry about the religious right flexing its muscles that created the greatest concerns.

"With [an estimated] 27% of the vote from Republicans coming from fundamentalists ... it can translate into concerns about those who advertise on programming," said Allan Timothy, director of federal affairs at Coors Brewing Co.

The Rev. Donald Wildmon, president of the American Family Association, said he hoped advertisers would take heed of the philosophical change indicated by the election results. "My message to advertisers who pay the bills on TV is that liberalism is a dying breed," said Rev. Wildmon, architect of several advertiser boycotts. "If they want to reach their consumers, they've got to recognize that America is turning back to family values."

Ira Teinowitz contributed to this story.

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