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Billboard Debate Rages over TV Ads

October 12, 2000
By: Suzanne Bessette
State Capital Bureau

COLUMBIA - Supporters of Proposition A are on the offensive again - this time, going after their opponents' television and radio advertisments. In a series of news conferences held around the state this week, the Save Our Scenery Campaign called on the television and radio stations running the ads to remove them.

Julius Zomper, campaign manager of Save Our Scenery, said the advertisements are patently false, and if television and radio stations know this, they are under an ethical as well as a legal obligation not to run them.

"They think the only way they can win this campaign is if they spend enough money on advertisements," Zomper said. "There's no one they haven't paid who has come to their side."

Bill May, chairman of Citizens Against Tax Waste, the source of the ads, called the news conferences "a publicity stunt born out of desperation."

"Of course they want us off the air, because we're telling the truth and that's not in their best interests," May said.

Proposition A, on the Nov. 7 ballot, would prohibit construction of new billboards on state and federal highways in Missouri. Supporters say the proposition does not require the destruction of any existing signs, and therefore will not cost taxpayers a dime.

But opponents -- led by Citizens Against Tax Waste, a group closely affiliated with Missouri's Outdoor Advertising Association, -- disagree. They say the measure would cost over $500 million in taxes by requiring the removal of almost 3,500 billboards.

May's group hired a private lawyer to review the proposition and formulate their legal argument. But a number of state authorities -- the Transportation Department, the attorney general and the state auditor -- say the proposition does not require the removal of any billboards.

Proposition A opponents began airing television and radio advertisements statewide just over a week ago, and have spent almost $2 million on ads so far. They are also getting their message out on large black and red billboards donated by the outdoor advertising industry.

Save Our Scenery has not done any mass advertising so far. "Obviously, we don't have the same sort of money they do," Zomper said. He expects his group to buy air time the week before the election.

Citizens Against Tax Waste says it's just trying to get voters to read the fine print. "The focus of our campaign is to get people to actually read the proposition," May said. "That's hardly the action of someone trying to mislead voters."