Disney/ABC and the NAB: Returning to the Altar

Posted August 5, 2005 at 4:55pm

It sounds like something out of Hollywood: a high-profile disagreement, a breakup and then two years later a blissful, public reunion.

After ditching the National Association of Broadcasters in 2003 over irreconcilable legislative differences, Disney/ABC — and the company’s reported $500,000 in annual dues — has returned to the trade group. Disney-owned ABC is the only one of the big four networks that left NAB but later renewed its membership. [IMGCAP(1)]

Disney’s top lobbyist, Preston Padden, was traveling and unavailable for comment, but in a statement he said, “ABC believes that the best interests of our industry, our company and ultimately the viewing public can be promoted by returning to the NAB. … With policy differences now behind us, ABC and NAB are once again in a position to work together towards our important common goals.”

ABC, like its other network counterparts, withdrew from NAB because of disagreements over media ownership rules. NAB’s membership, which mainly consists of local broadcasting stations, opposed the stance of ABC and the other big networks, which sought to raise the limits on media ownership rules.

NAB and ABC plan to work together on such issues as the conversion from analog to digital television transmission, on “multicasting,” where broadcasters send multiple signals, and on copyright and First Amendment matters. Where multicasting is concerned, NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton said, “The fact that we can speak with one voice with our network affiliates is extremely important.”

Combating the Rhetoric. As if there weren’t already associations for every conceivable industry, Dennis Loving of Spotsylvania, Va., has decided that the war on terrorism and reconstruction efforts demand another one.

Loving, a former employee of such companies as Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown and Root, has founded the Combat Contractor’s Association to represent the interests of contractors serving in volatile regions like Iraq.

Loving returned from Iraq a month ago after working in Baghdad and other Persian Gulf posts for two years. In Iraq, Loving, a one-time general contractor, said he supervised Iraqi contractors. “It was a challenge at first,” he said.

“While I was there, a lot of guys were talking about doing this, and they wanted somebody to do it,” said Loving, who has headquartered the one-man operation in Spotsylvania. “So I said I’ll try to put it together for everybody.” He said his group’s efforts, including Congressional advocacy and a Web site (combatcontractors.com), probably won’t be in full swing until September.

The group’s legislative goals include campaigning for a memorial to civilian contractors killed working with the military and extending tax breaks for contractors serving in war zones.

“Anytime that you’re having your butt out on a limb there, I think you deserve a little more than anyone else,” he said.

Loving said he also hopes to set the record straight about how much money combat contractors make, the hours they work and the risks they take.

The average contractor overseas, he said, makes double or two and a half times what he might make stateside, but the schedule is usually seven days a week, 14 hours a day.

“You hear a lot of the political rhetoric,” he said. “So it’s time that the whole story was told. One of the main things we’d like to see legislatively is a recognition of the role that contractors play as opposed to being used as a political pawn.” While civilian defense contractors might have their bad apples, Loving said, “you can look at Congress and find a few criminals too.”

Loving, 55, added that he has pitched in about $10,000 to get the group off the ground and is working on spreading the word to potential members overseas for donations.

“Hopefully I will make enough to do a little advertising and campaigning here,” he said.

Dude, Where’s Your Lobbying Report? The folks at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws must have spaced out. NORML forgot to file a 2004 year-end report detailing lobbying activity and expenses by the Feb. 14 deadline.

“I got a reminder,” explained R. Keith Stroup, NORML’s former executive director who now serves as its legal counsel.

NORML turned in its report to the Secretary of the Senate on July 21. And it turns out, the group doesn’t spend much money on Congressional advocacy — less than $10,000, according to the disclosure.

“We do very little lobbying,” Stroup explained. “There are very few people in Congress who feel comfortable with our position.”

Stroup said that NORML supports measures to decriminalize the use of marijuana for medical and recreational purposes.

NORML also wants the federal government to permit farmers to grow industrial hemp, a plant similar to marijuana but one that doesn’t produce a buzz.

Conservative Causes. Grover Norquist’s activist group Americans for Tax Reform dished out $750,000 on federal lobbying efforts for the first half of 2005, according to lobbying filings with the Senate.

Norquist said the group’s legislative priorities included medical malpractice reform, which passed the House last month; a gun liability measure that passed the Senate in July; and the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which President Bush signed last week.

With passage of several of those key pro-business measures, Norquist said “it was a real shot in the arm” for the conservative legislative agenda.

In the months ahead, ATR plans to focus its lobbying on retirement security, repealing the estate tax, making capital gains and dividends tax cuts permanent and encouraging spending restraint in the upcoming budget reconciliation package, Norquist said.

K Street Moves. Perhaps those new dues from Disney/ABC will help cover the salaries of Bryce Harlow II and Anne Devlin, who are coming aboard the National Association of Broadcasters in mid-August as directors in the government relations department. Most recently, Devlin ran the PAC at Dell Inc. Harlow has lobbying in his blood: He is the son of Timmons and Co. lobbyist Larry Harlow and the grandson of Bryce Harlow, a former White House official and a longtime lobbyist.