Multiple radio stations were forced to add a disclaimer to an advertisement sponsored by Maine Democrat Senate candidate Sara Gideon after it was brought to the radio stations’ attention that the advertisement, targeting Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), was deceiving to the point that it could violate campaign laws.
The ad, airing on radio stations in the final days of the high-stakes Senate race, deceptively simulates an objective news report created by the radio stations when in reality it is a negative campaign ad paid for by Gideon’s campaign.
In the above example, Bangor’s Classic Rock Station I-95 exits to commercial, and the first commercial is Gideon’s campaign ad.
While the ad begins with the disclaimer, “I’m Sara Gideon running for U.S. Senate, and I approve this message, paid for by Sara Gideon for Maine,” the ad confusingly switches to a male radio host saying, “Okay, we’re back. With Election Day fast approaching, big news today in the race for Senate. For more on that, we go to Kate Piper in the newsroom.”
A phony news report then proceeds in the voice of a female reporter with the attack ad against Collins, saying, “That’s right. Investigative reporters at ProPublica writing that newly uncovered emails reveal in 2017 Sen. Susan Collins protected a controversial tax break from Wall Street. … It looks like this is a story that will continue to unfold.”
Then, the same male radio host comes back, saying, “Thanks Kate, back in a minute, after a word from our sponsors,” followed by the next commercial.
Upon discovering the ad, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) intervened with a legal notice to radio stations because of how the ad could trick listeners, especially if they were to turn on the radio station midway through the ad without having heard Gideon’s disclaimer at the beginning.
One radio station told Breitbart News on Monday that the ad had made the station “uncomfortable” to the point that it doubled up on its own disclaimers on the ad, placing clarification at the end of it about who had paid for it and that “the preceding was a simulated news report.”
“Over the weekend, we became uncomfortable with the positioning of the disclosure at the beginning of the spot, so we added a ‘paid for’ disclosure to the end,” Mix 107.9 President Jay Hanson said. “It felt insufficient, so around 7am this morning, we added the additional line about the simulated news report.”
Channel X Radio President Richard Chandler told Breitbart News its station addressed the issue by adding “an independent announcement that this is not a bona fide newscast by this radio station” to the beginning of the ad.
The NRSC notice, obtained by Breitbart News, identified the concerns with the Gideon advertisement and the potential Federal Election Commission and Federal Communication Commission violations. The notice said, in part:
In the final 48 hours before election day, Sara Gideon’s campaign has purchased time on radio stations across the state of Maine to air a false advertisement concerning United States Senator Susan Collins that is deceptively formatted as a “news broadcast” in order to purposefully mislead listeners into believing that the ad is (1) objective reporting filed by journalists affiliated with your station and (2) sponsored by the commercial advertiser whose advertisement happens to air immediately following Gideon’s ad, in direct violation of federal election law.
By airing Gideon’s advertisement that is styled as a news broadcast and concludes with the line “back in a minute after a word from our sponsors,” each commercial advertiser whose ad airs following Gideon’s ad is falsely labeled as a “sponsors” of a federal candidate ad. As you know, federal election law clearly prohibits corporations from republishing candidate campaign materials including candidate ads. See 52 U.S.C. §30118 and 11 C.F.R. §109.23(a).
Moreover, the ad fails to comply with the Federal Communication Commission’s sponsorship identification requirements that require an advertisement “fully and fairly disclose the true identity of the person …on whose behalf such payment is made or promised.” Although Gideon’s ad carries the candidate disclaimers at the outset, the ad’s reference to “sponsors” whose “word” will immediately follow the ad confuses the Gideon disclaimers. Put more simply, the ad is a cynical ploy designed to deceive your listeners as to the true identity of the ad’s sponsor.
Gen Media Partners, a broadcasting representative, confirmed that Mix 107.9 as mentioned above, along with Cruisin Country 93.5 and AM station WSKW, had all acted after receiving the notice from the NRSC by tagging Gideon’s ad with independent disclaimers.
Gideon’s campaign did not immediately respond to request for comment.