McCain: What It Means to You

What Does the GOP Candidate Have in Store for the Marketing and Media Industries?

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WASHINGTON ( -- John McCain has been in the Senate since 1982, so it's no surprise that of the two candidates, he has the most extensive record on ad issues. Despite his maverick status, Mr. McCain is reliably Republican when it comes to issues of taxes and media ownership. That's good news for businesses -- mostly. He's against taxes as a rule but is also against "corporate welfare." The Arizona senator also tends to get wobbly when it comes to regulation. He's against meddling with internet regulation when it comes to net neutrality, but he's jumped onboard with indecency and anti-violence measures. And, of course, he and Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold co-sponsored a campaign-finance-reform bill that has had far-ranging effects on advertising.

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Photo: Paul Sancya

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Mr. McCain was chair of the Senate Commerce Committee from 1997 to 2001 and again from 2003 to 2005. The committee oversees the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission, and for eight years he played a major role in any FTC or FCC legislation the committee considered.


Though he has talked about lowering taxes both on businesses and individuals, Mr. McCain in 2000 talked about re-examining the key deduction for advertising -- the one that allows businesses to write off advertising's cost as a selling expense. While he talked about amortizing advertising costs in his 2000 campaign, Mr. McCain has not specifically mentioned the advertising tax this time around, and his campaign did not return multiple messages asking for his current stance.

In an April 15 speech on economics, Mr. McCain talked about "corporate welfare," though it wasn't at all clear he was talking about deductions.

"In my administration there will be no more subsidies for special pleaders, no more corporate welfare, no more throwing around billions of dollars of the people's money on pet projects," he said.

Media ownership

Mr. McCain generally has supported allowing more media concentration, arguing there is more competition from the internet and other media than there was years ago, though he's also questioned the matter of radio concentration.

Mr. McCain voted against overturning former FCC Chairman Michael Powell's 2003 dramatic easing of media-ownership rules that would have allowed one company to own up to three local TV stations, the local cable provider, major radio stations and the local newspaper in a city. (That proposal eventually got overturned in court, but Mr. McCain generally has continued to support further easing.)

Yet Mr. McCain voted against a 2006 telecom bill that led to more consolidation, and he offered legislation that would have made clearer the FCC's role in setting or easing limits.

Mr. McCain also has been critical of cable price hikes, accusing cable providers of "gouging" consumers, and he's repeatedly championed requiring cable providers to give consumers channel-by-channel a la carte choices as an alternative to buying a package.

"Consumers should not have to pay for channels they find distasteful or they do not watch," he said then in a press release.

TV content

In 2000, Mr. McCain joined three other senators in urging the FCC to take more action on indecency. The evidence shows "that many licensees, along with their network parents, are breaching this public trust and harming rather than serving the public interest," the letter said.

While most of Mr. McCain's fire has been reserved for sex and language, the senator in 2000 joined with Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman on legislation asking the surgeon general to examine the impact of the media on children, and they wrote an Advertising Age op-ed that suggested the entertainment and ad industries should work to limit "the practices of glorifying violence in the advertising and promotion of movies, music, TV programming and video games.

The internet and privacy

Mr. McCain has opposed net-neutrality legislation on the grounds that it is "prescriptive regulation" that is unnecessary.

"Given the enormous benefits we have seen from a lightly regulated internet and software market, our government should refrain from imposing burdensome regulation," the campaign's website says. "John McCain understands that unnecessary government intrusion can harm the innovative genius of the internet. Government should have to prove regulation is needed, rather than have entrepreneurs prove it is not. ... An open marketplace with a variety of consumer choices is the best deterrent against unfair practices."

He also opposes new taxes on the internet.

He has expressed concern about piracy of entertainment works and promised to protect the creative industries from piracy.

Campaign finance

Mr. McCain with Mr. Feingold put together the original campaign-finance legislation that carries their names in 2002, and until the presidential race, Mr. McCain continued to work on updating it.

The law had a number of effects on fundraising and advertising, and it also required media companies to sell ad time to federal candidates in the weeks before an election at the lowest unit rate for any ad, a move that may have cost media companies money.

Some Republicans have been critical of the legislation, saying it goes too far in limiting advertising. Mr. Feingold has offered new legislation to further limit what can be done. Mr. McCain has been far less active in campaign-finance issues recently.

Other advertising issues

Mr. McCain has said the proper role of government advertising regulation is "rooted in protecting consumers."

The campaign's website says Mr. McCain "has championed laws that penalized fraudulent marketing practices, protected kids from harmful internet content, secured consumer privacy and sought to minimize spam. ... His record reflects the careful balance between protecting the essential elements of the internet and securing the internet as a safe tool of commerce, education and entertainment for our citizens."

Mr. McCain was one of three sponsors last year of legislation that would bar the FCC from reintroducing the Fairness Doctrine, the policy requiring broadcasters to offer competing viewpoints in a balanced manner when presenting controversial issues.

"With the great number of media sources available today, divergent viewpoints do not have to be offered on the same radio or television show but can be found simply by channel surfing, reading a newspaper or browsing an internet blog," he said.
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