Billboard Lobby Kills Highway Beautification

Copied from THE PEOPLE
November 30, 1991
Page 4

MARYLAND

Billboard Lobby Kills Highway Beautification

By Joe Hollon Sr.

A recent survey indicates that most Americans think that the members of Congress are crooks. The old joke that we have "the best legislators money can buy" now seems to be widely accepted as a truism. An article appearing in The [Baltimorel Sun last month illustrated why this is the case.

The article described how Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) recently played a leading role in defeating a measure that would have sped up the process of removing billboards from scenic federal highways. The measure had been supported by the Senate committee that considered it, but Mikulski helped rally opposition in the full Senate.

Sen. Mikulski said on the Senate floor, "I happen to like billboards. I like billboards a lot." She went on to say that not only do billboards give necessary information, they were also vital to her first election victory 20 years ago to the Baltimore City Council.

Hidden Agenda

What she did not say was that, in the three weeks leading up to the vote, the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, the billboard industry lobby, contributed $9,500 to her reelection campaign. Little wonder that she "happens" to like billboards!

Just to the north of Maryland, the auto license plates proclaim, "You have a friend in Pennsylvania." This holds especially true for the billboard industry, in the person of Rep. Bud Shuster, a Republican from the Altoona area, and the ranking Republican on the House subcommittee that deals with highway transportation. Near the end of July, a measure to ban further billboards along scenic highways seemed headed for approval, but Shuster inserted a seemingly minor amendment that, opponents contend, could keep the measure hung up in the courts for years. Billboard lobbyists have already contributed at least $70,050 to Shuster's 1992 campaign, according to federal campaign reports. But what are "friends" for?

Workers Can't 'Outbid' Capital

What does this mean to workers? Admittedly, the billboard "issue" is not exactly a burning one for most workers at present. But this particular illustration shows how even a narrow capitalist interest, in the absence of any opposing capitalist interest, can have its way in Congress just by "persuading" only a few key lawmakers. The only opposing interest here was that of a few small groups interested in beautification -- and they could not prevail against tens of thousands of dollars, wisely "invested."

Not until workers take over the industries that our lives depend upon will our votes, within a cooperative commonwealth of labor, bring us a response to our needs. Until then, elected representatives will continue to be for sale -- and workers will never be able to "outbid" the capitalists.