The debate in Washington over competition and regulation of the telecommunications industry is hotter than ever. The major industries and trade associations are lobbying hard to protect their massive profit margins. They're holding fundraisers and throwing around money in hopes of coming out on top. Of course, there's a better way to show your loyalty to Congress: political censorship.
Last Thursday, the consequences of the pay-to-play political system became abundantly clear when Insight Communications, a cable television system owner, pulled an ad by Public Campaign Action Fund highlighting Sen. Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) favors to political donors.
Every other television station had no problem with the ad. After all, the facts laid out in the 30 second spot were clearly documented. So Insight's refusal to run the piece at first came as a surprise. But after some digging, we found that Insight executives had given thousands of dollars to McConnell's campaigns -- most recently at a March fundraiser.
Reporters, bloggers, and Kentuckians were all asking one question: Why did all the other stations choose to air the ad without question, and this one did not?
It came down to one thing: political censorship. McConnell doesn't want his constituents in Kentucky to see how he earmarked millions of dollars to benefit his former chief counsel turned lobbyist and major fundraiser. His donors (and hopeful recipients of positive public policy) were happy to oblige by pulling the ad. The point of the ad was to demonstrate that McConnell is cozy with his big donors while ordinary Kentuckians are left out. McConnell and Insight helped to prove our point.
So, we fought back. In just one day, more than 6,000 people signed a petition demanding the ad be put back on the air. Insight executives, McConnell, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee were all being forced to answer questions about their involvement.
And because of this public pressure, we won. On Friday evening, Insight relented. The ad will air tonight in Louisville and Lexington on the ESPN broadcast of the Cincinnati Bengals game. People-powered politics won out this time over big media's censorship.
However, McConnell is hardly throwing in the towel. His political spokesperson declared that they may still try to keep the ad off the air and blamed, "weak-kneed lawyers at the television stations." That's a remarkable statement coming from the office of the nation's leading opponent of campaign finance reform, who has always explained his support of the big money political system as an extension of his deep belief in free speech. Free speech for him apparently, but not for others.