Tri-State Public Communications (WHDD Radio) and its effort to disrupt the Region One School District
Tuesday (November 8, 2011) is election day in our municipalities. While there are many ‘non-races’, there are some contests. Three seats for the Region One Board of Education are in play – Canaan, Sharon and Salisbury.
The Lakeville Journal published their endorsements for these races (10/28) and also provided profiles about each of the candidates involved. The Journal contacted all candidates with a questionnaire so they could create these profiles and gave equal space to all candidates. While I may have some differences of opinion with their endorsements, I commend them for presenting all of the candidates equally and in their own words. They also made their pages available for citizens to state their preferences.
The Lakeville Journal, a private company, did a stellar job of presenting these races to the people of our area without bias. I tip my hat to the Journal.
Unfortunately WHDD (aka Robinhood Radio) which is operated by the 501c3 non profit Tri-State Public Communications and affiliated with National Public Radio, chose to handle the three Region One election contests a bit differently.
Apparently WHDD did not feel a need to invite all of the candidates to do interviews. I am assuming that candidates had to go knocking on their door if they wanted air time. While there is no violation of US Code or FCC regulations, it certainly does not fit the profile which they like to create about themselves. WHDD claims to be the place for information in the northwest corner but has failed to make any real effort to inform the citizens about the candidates in these races.
My suspicion is that our little public radio station has an agenda that is less that ‘fair and balanced’ concerning the Region One contested seats. Tri-State’s President and lead morning show host, Marshall Miles, has been consistent in his badgering of the Region One Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent, Board Chairman, and sometimes other Board members since August of 2010. He and his co-host (also the Treasurer of Tri-State), Jill Goodman, went so far as to advocate the defeat of the Region One budget earlier this year, based on information about administrator contracts that was at best inaccurate. Not long ago they cooked up a conspiracy theory about a Board meeting that was cancelled because it would have lacked a quorum, nothing more.
WHDD (Tri-State) has not been shy about the agenda they have spouted across their public airwave. They are trying to influence an election. Mr. Miles went so far as to post endorsements on the WHDD Facebook page. They are supporting candidates (at least two of the three he has endorsed) who have agenda designed to distract the Board from the business of education and target the top Regional administrators for elimination.
There has been extensive debate and some court cases concerning non commercial broadcast stations and political candidate endorsements. While the courts have ruled in favor of free speech, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) views 501c3 non profits differently concerning candidate endorsements.
IRS provides various non profit status classifications in the 501 category. There are three designations of non profits which allow for political activities such as candidate endorsements, however the 501c3 classification is NOT one of them.
From the IRS website:
Can a tax-exempt organization endorse candidates for public office?
The type of tax exemption determines whether an organization may endorse candidates for public office. For example, a section 501(c)(3) organization may not publish or distribute printed statements or make oral statements on behalf of, or in opposition to, a candidate for public office. Consequently, a written or oral endorsement of a candidate is strictly forbidden. The rating of candidates, even on a nonpartisan basis, is also prohibited. On the other hand, a section 501(c)(4), (5), or (6) organization may engage in political campaigns, provided that such activities are not the organization’s primary activity.
While Mr. Miles and Ms. Goodman will state that ‘this is Marshall’s opinion’ (and he prints that on the WHDD Facebook page), the fact that it appears on the official WHDD page brings Mr. Miles personal opinion into question. The IRS has issued publications on this matter, giving specific examples of when board members and executives of non profits cross this treacherous line. While the IRS does not restrict individual speech concerning candidates for public office, they do restrict what 501c3 organizations may do in this arena.
Mr. Miles is the President of the non profit and must exercise caution when he makes his endorsements. Based on the following example from the IRS, his endorsements being posted on the company Facebook page may well violate IRS code.
Here is one of 21 situations the IRS published in reference to rule 2007-41:
Situation 4. President B is the president of University K, a section 501(c)(3) organization. University K publishes a monthly alumni newsletter that is distributed to all alumni of the university. In each issue, President B has a column titled “My Views.” The month before the election, President B states in the “My Views” column, “It is my personal opinion that Candidate U should be reelected.” For that one issue, President B pays from his personal funds the portion of the cost of the newsletter attributable to the “My Views” column. Even though he paid part of the cost of the newsletter, the newsletter is an official publication of the university. Because the endorsement appeared in an official publication of University K, it constitutes campaign intervention by University K.
At the end of the day I am sorry that we do not have another local radio station. Most of the time WHDD spends its time pandering to those who might open their wallets to Tri-State. Their local news and political coverage is bias and there is no hesitation about banning people from the airwave when they do not submit to the hosts point of view. They even eliminate comments they don’t agree with from their Facebook page.
Hopefully reasonable people will not listen to the WHDD agenda designed to disrupt the Region One education system. The Region One Board needs to focus on quality education and cost controls in a volatile economy, not on creating controversy for the WHDD Breakfast Club to chatter about in the morning.