Last summer, I noticed a local leftyblog run by a couple of anonymous bloggers was trying to play lawyer.
They were gabbling about my friend, colleague and now Minnesota State Representative, King Banaian’s radio show on KYCR – also known as “AM1570 The Businessman”, sister station to AM1280 The Patriot.
King was a co-host of the Northern Alliance Radio Network on AM1280 – an overtly political show on an overtly political station – from March of 2004 until September, 2009. At that time – long before he announced any intention to run for office – he switched to the 1570, where he ran an expressly non-political show about economics.
The anonymous bloggers in question wrote a screed claiming that the 1570 needed to either pull Banaian off the air, or give his opponent equal time, notwithstanding the fact that AM1570 can not be heard in District 15B, a demand that caused me to wonder if Banaian’s opponent might want to just tell the anonymous bloggers to shut up and quit trying to “help” her; using the “equal time” would involve driving to Eagan from Saint Cloud every Saturday morning, or at the very least taking off a couple of hours of prime campaigning time per week to talk on the air on a station that has zero listenership – zero – in Saint Cloud.
Little did I know as I wrote my response that somebody had already filed a complaint [Warning! PDF File!] with the Campaign Finance Board! The CFB summarizes the complaint, saying the complainer believed there had been:
(1) a prohibited corporate contribution from the radio station owner to the King Banaian for House committee in the form of free radio air time;
(2) the failure to report contributions from the radio station owner to the King Banaian for House committee
(3) violations of the limits on contributions that may be accepted by a candidate’s principal campaign committee.
As I pointed out in my original response, the complaint was absurd: the show was expressly nonpolitical, and the station isn’t heard in the district in question anyway.
The complaint also gabbled on for quite a while about Banaian’s history – ending half a year before he announced his candidacy – on AM1280. Follow that logic there? Being on the air in the past is a form of campaign contribution? Did anyone file a complaint against Al Franken? Can any talk show host ever run for office?
It matters not – because the Campaign Finance Board reached exactly the same conclusions I did, and for exactly the same reasons.
As re the complaint’s, er, complaint that Salem “contributed” to Banaian via the “free” air time?:
For the purposes of analysis, the Board will adopt Complainant’s position and assume that Salem Communications provided services of value to King Banaian. In fact, the opposite may be true since King Banaian was a volunteer host with significant credentials and the radio station’ owners profited from commercials run during breaks in his program.
Heh. Don’t we all know it.
As re the notion that Salem was contributing to the Banaian Campaign, the CFB notes that the “contribution” would have required phenomenal ESP on the part of Salem’s execs:
Services provided by Salem Communications would be a recognizable and reportable transaction if those services constitute an “approved expenditure” under Minnesota Statutes Chapter 10A. An “approved expenditure” is an expenditure made by a third party for the benefit of a candidate with the approval of the candidate. Minn. Stat. §10A.01, Subd. 4. An approved expenditure constitutes both an in-kind contribution to the candidate’s principal campaign committee and an in-kind expenditure by the committee.
An approved expenditure is a specific type of “expenditure”. Thus, before a transaction will be considered to be an approved expenditure, it must fall within the definition of an expenditure.
Minnesota Statutes, Section 10A.01, Subd. 9, defines “Campaign expenditure” or “expenditure” as a payment or purchase “made or incurred for the purpose of influencing the nomination or election of a candidate . . .”. This statute clearly requires the existence of a specific purpose before a transaction is an expenditure for campaign finance purposes.
The program under consideration was ongoing prior to Mr. Banaian’s announcement that he would run for office. The program is aimed at discussion of economic issues. Although it discusses policy related to economics, it has not discussed Mr. Banaian’s candidacy for the House of Representatives.
In other words, the “campaign” to which the “contribution” was “made” didn’t “exist” when Salem put the expressly non-political show on the air – “air” which, need we remind you, ends at about the west end of Maple Grove:
The program’s broadcast signal does not reach the geographic area in which Mr. Banaian is running for office. While the online on-demand archive is available to anyone, there is no evidence that Salem Communications or anyone else has promoted the archive to voters in Mr. Banaian’s district.
(Or any other district. Don’t get me wrong – Salem rocks, and I thank them profusely for having me on the air for this past almost-seven years. But any “promotion” that any of us local hosts have gotten has been via word of mouth. Such is the nature of weekend radio).
The fact that Mr. Banaian may have appeared as a guest on broadcasts on WWTC, a political talk radio station, does not provide support for the proposition that Salem Communications made a political contribution to the King Banaian Committee. Minnesota Statutes Section Subd. 11(c) provides that a contribution does not include “the publishing or broadcasting of news items or editorial comments by the news media”. This exception is broadly interpreted in favor of allowing public discourse related to political campaigns. The fact that a candidate interview may have an effect on the candidate’s election is not sufficient to remove the interview from the news media exception.
The Board recognizes that any positive public exposure may have some effect on an individual’s chance of being elected. However, this possible collateral effect under the facts presented is not sufficient bring the broadcasts described by Complainant within the scope of expenditures that are considered to be for the purpose of influencing the nomination or election of Mr. Banaian.
Now, that’s an interesting proposition; considering “positive” interviews to be a “campaign contribution?” Can someone file a complaint against Keri Miller or Esme Murphy? Because if I have to listen to either of them painting Mark Dayton’s toenails on the air again, I’m going to herk.
Based on the information provided in the Complaint and the Response, and through the Board’s investigation, the Board makes the following:
Findings Concerning Probable Cause
1. There is no probable cause to believe that Salem Communications or KYCR Radio made a contribution to the King Banaian for House principal campaign committee by producing or broadcasting the King Banaian Show or other shows during which Mr. Banaian was interviewed.
Based on the above Findings, the Board issues the following:
1. The Complaint of [the complainer] regarding King Banaian, KYCR Radio and Salem Communications is dismissed.
2. The Board investigation of this matter is concluded and hereby made a part of the public records of the Board pursuant to Minnesota Statutes, section 1OA.02, Subdivision 11.
Where have we heard that before?
Now, since the bloggers who originally wrote about this are anonymous, I obviously have no idea who they are, or if the CFB “complaint” was in any way related to the blog post I, er, addressed last August.
Still, I have a hard time thinking what the anonymous bloggers, or the complainer, thought they were going to accomplish with this complaint. Given that the station is not heard in Stearns County, and given that the show was expressly non-political anyway, the only remaining motivation would be to stifle conservative punditry on the air.
It’s not hard to imagine that it backfired, though. Indeed, it’s not at all difficult to believe any part of King Banaian’s margin of victory in this past election that didn’t come from people disgusted by the DFL’s clumsy, racist jape at Banaian’s consulting career might have come from St. Cloudians revolted by the bald-faced appeal to censorship from a couple of carpet-bagging (apparent) Twin Citians.