Broadcasting licenses are granted only to serve the "public interest, convenience, and necessity." 47 U.S.Code §307(c)(1). If any broadcaster presents any legally qualified candidate on any newscast, interview, documentary or on-the-spot coverage, the broadcaster must "afford reasonable opportunity for the discussion of conflicting views on issues of public importance." 47 U.S.C. §315(a)(4). The broadcaster "shall have no power of censorship over the material broadcast..." 47 U.S.C. §315(a).
I believe these excerpts summarize the federal fairness doctrine. The most glaring omission is, of course, that no similar requirements are imposed on the press or printed media. There are many reasons for the omission, but suffice it to note that newspapers were protected from government regulation by the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press ...' In 1789, there were no corporate media barons, nor could the drafters reasonably foresee their rise centuries later.
Unfortunately, Title 47 permits broadcasters to charge candidates at specified rates for air time, and this has resulted in endless bribery scandals, most recently with Enron, followed by the passage of the ineffective McCain-Feingold campaign finance "reform" act. Newsweek (2/25/02) reported on this with a subtitle: "With Washington on the brink of historic campaign finance reform, the wise guys are already finding ways to keep the cash flowing.' Newsweek lists four channels unaffected by the law: corporate donors can still give $10,000 to state and local party committees; tax-exempt special-interest groups can still accept large contributions; big donors can still contribute unlimited amounts to political conventions; and individuals can give $37,SOO each year to candidates, parties, and political action committees. Personally, I am deeply offended that the Congress and the President treat those unable to shell out $37,500 a year in bribes as chumps or blockheads. Far from ending the voters' contempt for the system's corruption, I expect this law will turn off even more people from registering or voting.
I would like to propose a remedy to the Vermont legislature: pass a Vermont Fairness Doctrine Act. It should provide equal media time/space for all candidates for each office. If a print or broadcast media runs information on any candidate, paid or not, all competing candidates must be entitled by law to free equal time or space, to level the playing field and to eliminate bribery. I believe the media owe us this public service for their public franchise, based on the Congressional intent in 47 U.S.C.§307. The proposed act should offer the media two choices: they can refuse candidate ads and avoid the obligation to provide free equal time/space. Or they can charge the first advertiser a multiple to cover for the others. If a display ad used to cost $100 and there are 5 candidates, the first candidate pays $500 and the next 4 publish free. Once the nation is onto the evils of bribocracy, I have no doubt they will support "equal time" as no evil at all. But what about the First Amendment free press guarantee? I do not think the bribocrats can survive a Supreme Court challenge if there is solid support for equal time/space. The Supreme Court's ruling supporting one-person-one-vote logically requires a level playing field, not enabling the rich to buy the office for their candidate and then buy their candidate's vote on specific issues.
The proposed Fairness Doctrine law should also provide mandatory pooling of all campaign financing for each office to level the playing field, so that no candidate can win because of big bribes now called support, donations, contributions, hard & soft money, etc. The U.S. criminal code (18 §201(b)) provides fines of "three times the monetary equivalent of the thing of value" for political bribery. Buying a Representative his office paying $150,000 for 2 years comes to $900,000 and this should finance election pools. This money will dry up when bribery ends. We don't need campaign finance reform; we need to enforce the antibribery criminal code, and the proposed Vermont law should track these sentencing guidelines.
Lastly, we need an Anti-Bribery Commission (ABC) dedicated to the enforcement of the proposed Fairness Doctrine law, and it should be fine financed, to insure that candidates run on a level field and all voters, not just the fatcats, select and elect candidates and decide the political issues. The proposed ABC should be empowered to prosecute all violators and the burden of proof shared as follows: ABC must prove that money changed hands, and the bribers and bribees must convince a unanimous jury of 12 that there was no bribery and no corrupt intent.
Last but not least, if the above is enacted, we need no public financing or campaign finance grants which are a drain on the State and the taxpayers, and have generated controversy recently. If the proposed law is successful, can a Federal Fairness Doctrine Act and ABC be far behind?