In the latest maneuver in a struggle over the airwaves, alcoholic beverage interests have accused the promoters of a beer, wine and liquor tax increase proposal Wednesday of airing commercials that fail to disclose their major financial backers as required by law.
Lawyers for the industry-financed Taxpayers for Common Sense, which has been fighting to keep the promoters of Proposition 134 from getting free air time, made the accusation in a complaint filed with the Fair Political Practices Commission and then sent copies of it by overnight mail to the state’s radio stations. Proposition 134 would substantially increase taxes on alcoholic beverages and dedicate revenue from the tax hike to programs for the treatment of drug and alcohol abuse.
In a cover letter hinting that stations should reject the ads offered by supporters of the November ballot measure, San Francisco lawyer Barry Fadem said Californians for Yes on 134 had “clearly crossed the line” and were violating the state’s truth-in-initiative-advertisement law.
Fadem said radio spots name the group’s major funding source as “the California chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians,” when campaign reports show that its biggest financial backer is really a political committee called “Five PAC.”
Fadem said in an interview he suspected that the proponents of the November ballot measure were trying to name a funding source that would elicit a favorable reaction from the public rather than one which is relatively unknown. Five PAC gets its funds from a variety of sources, including hospitals and physicians.
But leaders of the Yes on 134 campaign said they believe that their commercials comply with the law and that Fadem’s complaint is another attempt by the industry to pressure radio and television stations to deny them free commercial time.
Bob Reynolds, campaign director for the Yes on 134 forces, said that the emergency room physicians group was a contributor to Five PAC and campaign officials thought that disclosing that group’s name would be more meaningful to voters than the name of a political action committee.
“I don’t think the real issue is whether we are complying with the law,” Reynolds said. “The issue is what can they do to (stop) the radio stations from doing what they have done in the past. I don’t think there has ever been such a concrete effort by multinational corporations to deny citizen interests access to the airwaves.”
The citizens group is asking for free air time under the Federal Communications Commission’s fairness doctrine, a regulation that requires broadcasters to ensure that they give balanced coverage to controversial issues of public importance. When one side of an issue has the resources to purchase advertising and the other does not, stations can correct the imbalance through public affairs programming, news coverage or by offering to run free advertising.
In an apparent acknowledgment that radio and television is the key to a November victory, the two sides in the Proposition 134 contest have drawn their battle lines in the corporate offices of the state’s radio and television stations. Californians for Yes on 134 are pushing broadcasters to give them free air time while their rival, Taxpayers for Common Sense, is threatening to cancel its political advertising with any station that gives the free time.
A spokesman for the Fair Political Practices Commission said the agency will review the complaint by Taxpayers for Common Sense to see if it has merit.