Publishers plan massive lobbying effort against postal rate hike
The Magazine Publishers of America, which last year spent $10 million to fight a rate increase by the U.S. Postal Service, announced that it will once again challenge the Postal Service's request to increase mailing rates. James R. Cregan, the Magazine Publishers' executive vice president for government affairs, said the new campaign would be much like last year's--except that this one would be "bigger." "Our board has authorized a campaign of that magnitude," Cregan told GovExec.com. Last year's campaign was led by Preston, Gates, Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds, a Washington law and lobbying firm, and the Dittus Group, a Washington public relations firm . Both firms are still on the association's payroll. In addition to litigation, media relations and lobbying, the Magazine Publishers'campaign included a large number of advertisements in member magazines. Postal rates for certain classes of mail rose in January, but by much less than the amount requested by the Postal Service in its most recent proposal to the Postal Rate Commission, an independent body. So on Feb. 6, the Postal Service's board of governors asked officials to prepare another rate-increase request, which might be filed as early as July and could take effect in the summer of 2002. The Postal Service argues that the rate increase is necessary because of severe budgetary problems. The Postal Service acknowledged that it lost $199 million last year and could face a $2 billion loss by the end of the fiscal year in September. A year ago, officials expected to have a $500 million surplus by then. While the Magazine Publishers of America is, so far, the only group to officially announce that it will fund a lobbying campaign against the rate increase, other associations have joined it in speaking out against the proposal. "We'll be there once again" to oppose the rate increase, said Douglas Berger, the director of executive communication with the Direct Marketing Association, which represents bulk mailers. "We're not happy about the fact that the Postal Service is filing a rate case just a few months after their last rate case." Allan Adler, the vice president for legal and government affairs at the Association of American Publishers, also pledged his group's active opposition to the rate hike. "Not all book publishers use the mail in the way that magazines do, so we can't devote the same kind of budgetary resources to it," he said. "But we took the largest hit in the recent rate case, and at the moment, we are not optimistic about being treated better this time." Cregan said he expects to help put together formal coalitions of industries opposed to the rate hike. "There will be a united front, and you will see more than the usual suspects," he said. In addition to attacking the rate proposal, the Magazine Publishers, the Direct Marketers and other groups are urging fundamental reforms at the Postal Service, which currently entails both public- and private-sector features. The Postal Service's projected losses "signal that if the wheels are not yet coming off, then at least it is starting to lose a bit," Cregan said. With the importance of the mails to the national economy, "it's not an exaggeration to say that this could develop fairly quickly into a serious, national public policy issue." Berger said the Direct Marketing Association feels that there is already "a crisis" at the Postal Service. "We're not happy about the rate case, but do believe that the real solution lies in legislative reform," he said. "It's time for Congress to take this seriously."
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