PORTLAND – There was no indication Tuesday that Maine television stations will stop airing advertisements critical of independent U.S. Senate candidate Angus King, a day after his campaign asked the stations to pull the spots.
A top official at WAGM in Presque Isle, one of Maine’s seven stations, said the station is comfortable with the ads. Three other stations said they’re still considering the candidate’s request, and three others didn’t respond.
A spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the group that produced the ads, said in a prepared statement that it has received no indication that they will be pulled. Previous reports have said the organization has committed $600,000 to ad buys in Maine.
King’s campaign is asking stations to stop airing an ad that uses critical interviews with five people who have ties to Roxbury, the western Maine town that’s the site of a wind power project that King helped to develop with his business partner, Rob Gardiner.
A second ad says King “used his political connections to get a taxpayer-backed loan” that helped to finance the project.
Linda Connolly, national sales manager and program director at WAGM, a CBS and Fox affiliate, said the Roxbury ad was scheduled to run on her station through Tuesday. If the National Republican Senatorial Committee wanted to run it longer, she would probably let it, she said.
“We’re going to keep running them,” she said. “We got all sorts of verification and stuff that backed up what they were saying.”
Representatives of NBC affiliates WCSH of Portland and WLBZ of Bangor and ABC affiliate WVII of Bangor said the ads were under review.
“We haven’t made a decision on what we plan to do yet,” said Steve Carter, WCSH’s president and general manager. “We’ve got people looking at the material and that’s all I know.”
Two CBS affiliates, WGME in Portland and WABI in Bangor, along with ABC affiliate WMTW in Portland, didn’t return calls for this story.
King’s campaign has taken aim at two points in the Roxbury ad: that King “got a sweetheart deal” for a government loan related to the Record Hill wind power project, and that King was “making millions of dollars” without specifying a time frame.
King has said his net earnings from the project in Roxbury were $212,000.
Michael Franz, a government professor at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, said the King campaign’s response to the ad is political, matching the candidate’s stated objective: centrism and opposition to negative campaigning.
“This is about trying to tell people that they disagree with the content of the ad,” Franz said. “They’re sounding a little too hurt by this, like they can’t take attacks. But it’s also their way of saying, ‘We’re going to fight the system.’ I don’t think it hurts them at the end of the day.”
Television and radio stations must air ads from candidates for federal office regardless of content and may not censor them, according to Flackcheck.org, a site run by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Policy Center.
However, stations aren’t obligated to run ads from third-party groups such as the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and they have a duty “to protect the public from false, misleading or deceptive advertising.”
To Franz, the ads likely don’t meet the necessarily high threshold for removal.
“I don’t think the stations are going to take these ads down,” he said. “They probably shouldn’t. Elections are nasty and everyone’s sort of playing with the evidence.
“You make these distinctions,” he said, “and it’s sort of hard to know when to stop.”
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