Brannon, Beck and Tea Party political Payola

Politico has an in-depth look at the financial ties between Tea Party PACS and prominent conservative radio personalities like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck. In deals with millions of dollars, Tea Party political groups are not only buying ads on top-rated conservative radio programs, but also paying the personalities for hawking membership to the groups. The sweetheart deals were exposed in memos from FredomWorks obtained by Mother Jones and Politco and FEC filings on spending by the groups.

On page two, NC Tea Party favorite Greg Brannon pops up:

Brannon, a Raleigh-area doctor, added more volunteers and raised more money in the month after his first appearance on Beck’s show than in any previous month, he told Beck during his second appearance.

Beck responded by urging his listeners, “If you have money, donate. If you have time, donate.” But he also added a bit of shtick betraying his radio roots in the early 1980s as a Top 40 disc jockey in the then-emerging “morning zoo” genre. “I could tongue-kiss you and I’m not a guy who does that,” said Beck, who has become increasingly engaged in primary politics since the early days of the tea party and his partnership with FreedomWorks.

While the contracts are careful not to require the radio hosts to endorse specific candidates, they do raise troubling questions about FEC regulations on political advertising and broader laws on disclosure of monies paid to stations, networks and personalities for on-air endorsements.

Old codgers among BlueNC readers might recall the Payola scandals of the 1950s where record companies paid DJs to play songs without revealing to listeners the financial arrangements behind the airplay. In Congressional testimony, one DJ noted he was paid $22,000 (in 1959 dollars) to play one song. Even though the Payola scandals pushed stations away from having DJs personally responsible for station playlists, Payola scandals still popped up for several years - in 2005, Sony-BMG paid a $10 million fine for contracting with stations to spin specific songs.

What the Politico article doesn't dive into are the detailed legally mandated reporting and access requirements placed on broadcasters for political advertising. The reporting ensures that candidates aren't overcharged beyond the station's normal rates for advertising and that candidates get equal access to advertising opportunities on stations. (This pdf from a legal firm outlines the requirements.) Stations are probably counting Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck and similar programs as "bona fide news" programming for the purposes of FEC regulations - the revelations of these contracts would raise serious questions about this practice. The FEC regulations also cover issue advertising by PACS and require equal access when candidates appear in ads - Brannon's appearance on Beck would likely fall under this rule.

Stations have to keep records of political advertising on file and available to the public. Most stations have a link to these files online, but anyone from the public can examine the files in person during normal business hours.

The payments to Right-wing talkers also raises questions about rebroadcast of these programs by the Armed Forces Network. AFN is mandated to carry a variety of entertainment and news programming for our troops serving overseas in the military. However, regulations strictly prohibit broadcast of commercial and political advertising. These contracts may renew calls to get Right-wing talk radio off of AFN.


Fox News perfected this "art'

See The Fox Effect book for details. Ailes's favorites get multiple guest spots and campaign plugs that results in huge fundraising advantages. Beck is insane and on the dim side, but he learned that much at Fox.

The book also discusses your point about why this crap is illegal and ought to be prosecuted.

"I will have a priority on building relationships with the minority caucus. I want to put substance behind those campaign speeches." -- Thom Tillis, Nov. 5, 2014

What's different ...

... about this situation is that "behind the scenes" payments are going directly to talk-show hosts from political groups without revealing them to the public. That's a big no-no, legally - it's no different that spinning records for cash or endorsing a toothpaste without revealing you're getting paid to do it.

It's paid political advertising, pure and simple, and has to be disclosed, documented and taken into account under the FEC's equal time/equal access laws.

Talk radio babble

Honestly, I don't get the attraction. Granted, I'm not a wing-nutter in need of continued encouragement to remain focused on the hate, but the sheer volume of often wild speculation attached to each dubious "fact" makes my brain want to escape from my skull so it can change the station.

Five minutes of Diane Rehm exposes more real information than two hours of Rush/Beck/whoever, and I always come away knowing a lot more than I did before turning the dial.

Rush Limbaugh

"I will have a priority on building relationships with the minority caucus. I want to put substance behind those campaign speeches." -- Thom Tillis, Nov. 5, 2014

Glenn Beck

"I will have a priority on building relationships with the minority caucus. I want to put substance behind those campaign speeches." -- Thom Tillis, Nov. 5, 2014