Portland Press Herald Makes a Political Donation
In the November election, Portland voters decided to revamp the city’s political structure by creating an elected mayor’s position. During the campaign, the Portland Press Herald editorialized in favor of the change, but it also did a lot more than that.
According to the latest finance report filed on Dec. 14 by the political action committee Elect Our Mayor, Yes on 1, the Press Herald provided supporters of an elected mayor with free advertising.
The report (which is not online as I write this, but may be posted on the city’s Web site shortly) shows that in the late stages of the campaign, the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce purchased several full-page advertisements in the paper worth a total of $46,507.74. But underneath that entry is this note:
“The Portland Press Herald did not charge the Portland Regional Chamber for the ad space.”
I’m no expert in campaign finance law, but it appears to me as if the newspaper made a sizable political donation through a third party. The PAC probably ought to have listed the Press Herald as the donor, rather than the chamber.
More importantly, the Portland paper should have told its readers it was backing an elected mayor with more than just editorials. In informing the public it was taking an active role in the campaign, it would have been practicing the same transparency it regularly urges government entities to embrace. And it would have avoided speculation about its motives.
“We wondered how the proponents were able to pay for full page ads every day for a week before the election,” Portland City Councilor Cheryl Leeman, a leader of the anti-elected-mayor faction, said in an e-mail. “Now we know. Since when does a newspaper make an endorsement then help fund the effort – seems little unethical to me.”
Let’s be clear. As a corporate entity, the Press Herald has the same rights as anyone else to make donations to campaigns. But as a news organization, it has a responsibility to be open about those activities. It appears to have failed miserably at the latter.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.