RNC Warns TV Not to Run MoveOn.org Ads

In what has to be considered a startling new departure from democracy, CNN reports that the Republican National Committee has sent a letter to tv stations around the country telling them not to run MoveOn.org ads critical of the President or risk being sued.No, kiddies, I’m not making this up.

WASHINGTON (CNN) — The Republican National Committee is warning television stations across the country not to run ads from the MoveOn.org Voter Fund that criticize President Bush, charging that the left-leaning political group is paying for them with money raised in violation of the new campaign-finance law.”As a broadcaster licensed by the Federal Communications Commission, you have a responsibility to the viewing public, and to your licensing agency, to refrain from complicity in any illegal activity,” said the RNC’s chief counsel, Jill Holtzman Vogel, in a letter sent to about 250 stations Friday.

“Now that you have been apprised of the law, to prevent further violations of federal law, we urge you to remove these advertisements from your station’s broadcast rotation.”

The GOP is so arrogant now that their threats are no longer implied, they’re made boldly, explicitly, directly. Criticism of Our Great Leader is not only traitorous and un-American, it’s very possibly illegal if it comes from the wrong place. We probably have to put up with critical ads from Kerry’s campaign; after all, he’s a candidate. But criticism from left-wing terrorist organizations like MoveOn.org and the Teacher’s Union? organizations dedicated to the downfall of Our Great Leader? No, we don’t have to stomach blasphemy from the likes of them. That has to be illegal….. Doesn’t it? Money only buys free speech when it’s right-wing money and right-wing speech, why don’t people understand that?

The Bushies better be careful, though, because their trumped-up rationale cuts both ways, and the side facing them is a lot sharper.

The RNC charges that because the ads are designed to help defeat President Bush, the group cannot pay for them with unlimited “soft money” contributions but only with contributions raised in amounts less than $5,000.Although MoveOn.org is a so-called “Section 527” organization that is legally allowed to raise soft money in unlimited amounts from donors, the new campaign-finance law prohibits the group from using those funds to pay for ads that directly attack Bush, Vogel said.

It’s ironic (but predictable) that the first time this provision of the CFL was invoked it was against a progressive group, because it was written to stop the proliferation of right-wing attack-dog PACs funded by wealthy Pub supporters that have been carrying the RNC’s water for the past 25 years. All by himself, Richard Mellon Scaife funded dozens of such committees and paid for their ad campaigns excoriating Democratic candidates so the RNC could side-step responsibility for controversial, not to say liabelous, ads and still get them out there.

The section of the law they’re referring to is going to make it much harder for right-wing groups to comply than progressives. Progressive money almost always comes in small doses (with one or two exceptions, rich people are Pubs)–

But MoveOn.org says it has raised $10 million for advertising from 160,000 donors, in amounts averaging $50-$60. It is running two ads in 67 TV markets in what its Web site describes as 17 “battleground” states.”It’s not surprising that [RNC Chairman] Ed Gillespie continues to make false claims about the legality of our campaign in order to silence us,” Wes Boyd, president of the voter fund, said in a statement. “Our lawyers continue to assure us that our advertising, and the small contributions from tens of thousands of our members that pay for it, conform in every way to existing campaign-finance laws.”

–while right-wing money tends to be a single-payer system. Do the Pubs really want to force their myriad corporate and tycoon-funded PACs to prove how narrow their base is?

Besides the obvious goal of shutting off criticism in the one media they think people pay attention to–television (you’ll notice they didn’t send the same warning to newspapers and magazines)–part of what’s behind this is, I think, pure projection: the Pubs believe that because they have no broad-based public financial support but have to depend on corporate sugar-daddies extorting money from their employees, so then must progressives have the same problem. Their conclusion is that if a progressive organization has $10M dollars to spend on anti-Bush ads, it must have gotten the money the same way–

The RNC has complained that though it is no longer allowed to use soft money for campaigning, MoveOn.org is accepting large soft money contributions from a cadre of wealthy donors, including billionaire financier George Soros and film producer Steven Bing, in its quest to defeat the president.

–and why, they figure, should progressives get to use their billionaire’s resources when the right-wing can’t access the resources of its many billionaires?

The last part of what’s behind this is that the RNC is likely laying the groundwork for yet another assault on whatever advertising efforts the unions make this year. They are powerful enemies of the right (though not so powerful as they used to be, thanks to Reagan) with big war chests. If the RNC can frighten the networks from airing critical progressive ads, as they did when they kept MoveOn.org’s ads off the CBS SuperBowl schedule, then they have a chance to short-circuit the ad campaigns the unions intend to run, which may be the real goal behind this latest outrage. The unions have been a major target of Publican whining for a long time–they have been fighting the legality of union political advertising since 1980, and heavily since ’92–and they want to find a way to get the unions out of elections, period. This is just one more tactic to achieve that goal.

Not that it’s a particularly good one–union money ultimately comes from the dues paid by its individual members and not even Hollywood unions charge in excess of $5000–but the goal isn’t to win a legal action, it’s to scare nervous network advertising execs with the spectre of $$Millions$$ in lost revenue from Bush’s corporate sponsors if ads critical of Our Great Leader are allowed to air. Ordinarily, simply telling them that’s what would happen would be enough, but we’re still pretending to be a democracy where everybody has the right to say their piece and this is a supposedly democratic election, so the execs have to have a legal excuse the station’s lawyers can run with.

The excuse the RNC came up with is awful weak–and clearly inappropriate to the case of MoveOn.org–but then, tv stations and their networks aren’t very strong. They’ve buckled under every demand the BA has made, no matter how ludicrous or unethical–scripted news conferences, interviews with Junior in which they weren’t allowed to quote him (that still blows my mind)–and given the BA no real sense that there’s a line that can’t be crossed. Maybe there isn’t as far as they’re concerned. I have a feeling we’re going to find out over the next few months.

(Thanks to devoted reader eagle for the tip)

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