April 28, 2005

First They Came for the Radio Talk Show Hosts...

Carroll Andrew Morse

Q: What do Republican State Representatives Joseph Trillo and Raymond Gallison, and Democratic Representatives Steven Smith and J. Rusell Jackson have in common? A: They have all received in-kind campaign contributions in this calendar year from the same corporate source. That’s right, a major corporation (based out of state, no less) has printed pamphlets for all 4 representatives, and distributed them statewide, at no cost to the representatives.

The corporation is the Belo corporation, the owners of the Providence Journal. All 4 of these representatives have recently written an op-ed for the Projo. If we carry the state Board of Elections ruling that Cranston Mayor’s Steve Laffey’s radio program is an in-kind contribution to its logical conclusion, shouldn’t an op-ed in the newspaper also be defined as an in-kind contribution? How much would it have cost these representatives to get the same exposure they got for free by writing in the Projo?

I fear that our state board of elections has bought into the growing illogic of campaign finance rules: newspapers, magazines, and traditional TV news are the only ones who have truly free speech; all other speech is subject to regulation.

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

Further, from the ProJo West Bay section:

[RI Election Board Chairman Roger] Begin clarified yesterday that public officials who host programs on public access stations are in no danger, while officials who host or appear on commercial radio or television stations may pose a problem.

"As a general rule, we made a distinction between an individual who appears on a commercial radio station, and somebody who appears on a cable TV program," Begin said.
Begin said that it is an issue of access. Any member of the public can have a public access show, so Republican Warwick Rep. Joseph Trillo's show, for example, is safe.
"Cable TV, by its charter and its franchise, has to permit public access to anybody," Begin said, whereas a commercial radio show is only available to a select few -- and in this case, Laffey is on the air because of his status as mayor of Cranston.
Begin said that politicians who have their own show on a commercial cable channel such as Cox Communications' Channel 3 are in a tougher position. He declined to discuss specific situations, however.
"I hesitate to respond to either hypotheticals or to situations where I don't know all the facts," he said.
And it may be even fuzzier for prominent officials such as Governor Carcieri and Providence Mayor David Cicilline. Carcieri hosts a monthly call-in show on WPRO where he answers constituent questions for one hour, and Cicilline has a regular monthly segment on the Steve Kass show, also on WPRO.
"I don't know yet. I just don't know yet," Begin said about those two situations.
But he said that he expects the board will find out one way or another, intimating that further challenges from political opponents are possible, if not expected.
"I think what we have done here, we have defined new ground in the rules of campaign contributions. Now, there will be ample opportunity for further clarifications," he said.
Begin said WPRO is not facing censure because the Board of Elections has dominion over candidates only, not over donors.
Brown Political Science Prof. Darrell West said yesterday that with this ruling in place, many officials who have their own shows could face challenges to the Board of Elections.
"If they are serious about this, it's going to affect mayors, General Assembly leaders, and a number of other public officials," West said.
He said he does not expect the decision to stand if Laffey chooses to challenge it.
"Courts have a very strong bias in favor of the First Amendment. I'd be surprised if a judge didn't overturn this decision," West said.
Posted by: Marc Comtois at April 28, 2005 11:37 AM