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Even the best get seduced by the trappings of power

Maybe radio talk show host Moon Griffon has a point when he says don’t vote for any legislator facing term limits in one Louisiana legislative chamber if trying to get elected to the other in 2007. His idea is that even the best politicians, if they stay too long in Baton Rouge, become seduced by the trappings of power in state government and they need to go home after as many as 12 years. Ironically, he’s become personally involved in a case that proves his point.

For a conservative like Moon, Republican state Rep. Ernie Alexander on the surface would seem to be a great legislator. In the 2005 regular legislative session, he ranked the highest (70/100) of all 144 on my Louisiana Legislature Log’s voting record list. Indeed, Alexander has been a guest on Griffon’s program many times. But when Moon began publicizing state Rep. Blade Morrish’s voting record (he scored 56/100), a friend of Alexander’s who is one of those term-limited House members looking to win a Senate seat, Alexander took umbrage.

He sent a letter to Griffon basically stating that candidate advertisements being run on Griffon’s show, combined with Griffon’s negative tone towards the records of other putative candidates running for the same offices, meant that Griffon’s might be yanked by broadcasters:

If the general managers of the stations on the Moon Griffon network understood what the facts are … they would have to make the decision to remove your program from the station lineup or become a willing participant in any lawsuits or FCC investigations that could follow.

Except that this summation, incredibly enough made by a former general manager of radio stations, is almost totally wrong and false. The Code of Federal Regulations is very clear concerning the obligations broadcast licensees must follow regarding political speech by candidates for public office (the Federal Communications Commission summarizes them here.) To summarize:

  • Griffon can say anything he wants about any candidate for office. He is not a candidate for office and thus none of these rules apply to him. The days of the “fairness doctrine,” which would have been unlikely to apply in any case, are long gone.
  • If one of his affiliate stations runs a network Griffon ad for a political candidate, to be in compliance with the law/regulations, all the station would have to do is allow other candidates for that office to buy air time at a price regulated by FCC rules at a time broadly set by FCC standards (see 47CFR73 Subpart H Sec. 73.1941).

    There is no standing to sue; indeed, a plaintiff first must lodge a protest with the FCC, but such a protest would go nowhere because stations are required to keep records on these matters and any reasonably competent manager merely would have to prove that if a rival candidate had come to his station and asked to buy air time when the station had aired an ad for a candidate in the same contest via syndication from Griffon, that he offered such at non-discriminatory rates and non-discriminatory times. There’s simply no reason a station would need to remove Griffon’s programming on the basis Alexander claims.

    Which leads to what appears to be Alexander’s regrettable motives. Surely someone of his experience in the industry knows all of this; if not, he must have been a pretty incompetent general manager (if so, I’ll leave a seat open for him in my introductory American Government class, for the lecture that we go over this). It seems to me that a genuinely friendly, if misguided, reproach could have been done without involving the citizenry’s money; that he spent Louisiana tax dollars by using legislative stationery and had the state pick up the cost of mailing also is telling;.

    It tells that Alexander has been in office too long to know the difference between ethical and unethical use of power and taxpayer’s resources (Alexander accuses Griffon of “doing something which is unethical;” might the Louisiana Ethics Administration Program be interested in Alexander’s use of state funds on what seems to be a personal political quest)? It tells us that even a conservative who often has spoken and voted against the arrogance of big government can become seduced by it. And it tells us that maybe Moon is right – throw all the bums out regardless of their partisan affiliations or their ideologies, because if a representative like Alexander can be turned into the thing he appeared to be against, than anybody can be.
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