Pro-Tax Cut Groups Turn Up the Heat

Posted March 12, 2003 at 4:53pm

As Congress nears a debate on the president’s economic recovery plan, a pair of leading business lobbies plan to hit the airwaves with a massive outside-the-Beltway media buy this weekend to prod a handful of wavering Senators to back the $726 billion package.

Like President Bush himself, the industry groups are taking aim at a small group of moderate Republicans in the Senate who hold the decisive votes for the top White House priority.

On Wednesday, the Business Roundtable bought a series of ads in Sunday’s regional newspapers targeting GOP Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, George Voinovich and Mike DeWine of Ohio and key Senators in four other states.

Separately, the broader Tax Relief Coalition — the industry’s main lobbying group on the tax plan — is finalizing plans to place radio ads in states considered to be critical to the success of the White House package.

“We are in the planning stages,” said Jade West, a top lobbyist with the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, who helps run the Tax Relief Coalition.

Together, the twin media campaigns signal the start of a new phase of the industry’s lobbying effort as both chambers prepare to begin the heavy lifting on the legislation.

The advertisements, the first to air outside the Beltway this year on the issue, will run just days before the Ways and Means Committee is slated to begin debate on the package. The Senate is expected to follow soon after.

“The only way to get the economy back on track is to let taxpayers like you keep more of their hard-earned money,” declares an ad prepared by New York advertising firm Burson-Marsteller for the Business Roundtable.

Johanna Schneider, a spokeswoman for the group of Fortune 500 CEOs, said the ads will appear in major regional papers beginning Sunday in a half-dozen states. The group also is considering running radio advertisements in selected states.

Schneider declined to put a price tag on the effort, but said the year-long ad campaign will be the most expensive advertising campaign by the Business Roundtable since it spent nearly $20 million in support of normalized trade relations with China.

“We need to get consumers back into our stores,” she said. “This bill will do that by taking money out of people’s pockets and checking accounts and putting it into the economy.”

Both business groups said their media campaigns will focus exclusively on the Senate because they are confident that the House will approve the president’s plan by the Easter recess.

Separately, the broader Tax Relief Coalition hopes to begin buying radio advertisements in key states within a few days.

“We’ve got a pretty good pot of money,” said Bruce Josten, a lobbyist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a leading member of the Tax Relief Coalition.

Josten said the coalition — led by the National Federation of Independent Business, Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers, National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors and National Restaurant Association — has signed up more than 1,200 companies to join its effort.

Meanwhile, the Business Roundtable has added some muscle to its own lobbying effort, tapping Republican heavyweights Fierce & Isakowitz to lead its effort on Capitol Hill.