It is not always huge campaign donations that buy political candidates media exposure. Take the Hawaii governor’s race.
Hawaii Independent Party candidate Mufi Hannemann and Libertarian Party contender Jeff Davis have found a way to get additional exposure on Hawaii media outlets at the same time they are running for office.
Davis has a radio talk show five days a week on KGU 760 AM. Hannemann has a weekly column in the community newspaper MidWeek as well as his weekly “golden oldies” radio show on KKOL 107.9 FM.
This gives both Hannemann and Davis exposure in the governor’s race their opponents lack.
What Hannemann and Davis are doing is perfectly legal.
But even if it is all above board, I don’t think it makes good sense.
By allowing Hannemann to continue writing in the paper while he is electioneering, MidWeek appears to be favoring Hannemann over the three other gubernatorial candidates who do not have the same opportunity.
Chris Conybeare, president of the Media Council Hawaii, says under the First Amendment, newspapers can publish whatever they want but he says, “I would question the ethics of giving such an unfair advantage to a single candidate.”
I emailed Frank Bridgewater, the editor of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, which is owned by the same company as MidWeek, to ask if the Star-Advertiser, Hawaii’s statewide daily paper, allows political candidates to write regular columns.
Bridgewater said in an email, “The Honolulu Star-Advertiser would not run regular columns or blogs written by candidates running for public office.”
Even though some might dismiss MidWeek as an ad-rag, it is received by 298,000 homes on Oahu and Kauai. That is a huge readership for Hannemann.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Duke Aiona does not have access on a regular basis to those readers nor does Libertarian Davis or Democratic party gubernatorial candidate David Ige.
Don Chapman, the editor of MidWeek, says Hannemann is allowed to continue his column during the election season because “as a community newspaper, MidWeek is not bound by FCC regulations. Mufi is compensated for his columns, which are well written, informative and among our best read, according to surveys. “
Chapman says several other politicians contribute to MidWeek on a “semi-regular” basis in supplements within the paper called “regional MidWeek Islanders.”
But Chapman says the other politicians are not paid for their writing as Hannemann is, and they do not write weekly columns for MidWeek as Hannemann does.
Chapman declined to answer my follow up email asking him if it was fair for MidWeek to offer Hannemann a regular paid column while he is running for office.
In his column called “Island Matters,” Hannemann writes about good things people have done in the community but in the past he has also used the column as a platform for self-promotion by pointing out his accomplishments when he was Honolulu Mayor and a City Council member.
I called Hannemann to ask to interview him about the propriety of continuing to write his MidWeek column while he is running for political office, and to ask if he ever thought of suspending his columns until after the election.
Donna M. Woo, Hannemann’s campaign scheduler, emailed me back saying, “At this time, we are unable to accommodate your request as Mufi’s calendar is completely filled with activities both on Oahu and on neighbor islands. We will let you know if something opens up.”
I guess he didn’t want to talk about it.
I also asked for but received no answer from the Hannemann campaign about the propriety of Hannemann continuing his weekly “golden oldies” radio. The show airs for an hour starting at noon every Saturday.
At an editorial board meeting with Civil Beat on Monday, Hannemann said he thinks the criticism that he is continuing the column and radio show while running for office is off base. He says he’s been asked about it a number of times and has explained in the past that he doesn’t write about politics in MidWeek or talk about politics on the radio show. He said he pays KKOL for the airtime to run the show.
Libertarian Party candidate Davis’s talk show “Hawaii Tomorrow” airs on the KGU 760 AM Monday-Friday from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Davis says the conversations on his show usually focus on education, the environment, and politics, but he says he also uses the air time to push his candidacy.
With the general election less than a month away, Davis says, “I have to talk about my campaign at this junction.” Davis’s show also offers a link to his campaign website.
Although Hannemann’s and Davis’s radio shows give them visibility their opponents lack, there are federal regulations to address such potential unfairness.
The Federal Communications Commission says candidates for office must cancel their radio or TV shows during an election, but if they continue to perform their opponents must be offered equal air time.
This equal time requirement means opponents can ask for equal time even if their opponent’s show is not political. It would apply if their opponent had a cooking show, a radio talk show, or was a DJ or a TV anchorman or a weather forecaster — any kind of on-air performance.
So Hannemann’s statement that he does not talk about politics on his KKOL radio show doesn’t matter. The FCC still considers his time talking about music an unfair advantage over the other candidates that triggers the equal time requirement.
FCC law says opposing candidates have seven days to appeal for equal time after an opponent has appeared on the air.
That means that David Ige and Duke Aiona could request and receive equal time on the radio to do any kind of show they want, even a straight commercial for themselves as long as the time is equal to the time Davis and Hannemann actually talk on the air.
Interestingly, Hannemann and Davis are not paid for their shows. They pay out of their own pockets to be on the air.
Salem Media Honolulu, which owns the radio stations on which Hannemann and Davis have their shows charges $125 per hour for an AM radio show like Davis’s show and $200 per hour for an FM radio show like Hannemann’s.
Aiona and Ige are missing out on a whole lot of inexpensive radio time that’s waiting for the asking.
Leilani Williams, the general manager of Salem Media Honolulu, says, “If anyone in the gubernatorial race asks for equal time, we will honor it.”
Williams says Salem Media is committed to broadcasting information to help voters, but she says so far no one has asked for equal time.
It was a different story in 2012 when Hannemann ran for a 2nd Congressional District seat.
Two of his opponents objected to his radio show.
Tulsi Gabbard, who later won the race, told Civil Beat’s Chad Blair then she thought Hannemann’s radio show was crossing the line.
“Bottom line, it’s not right and I am sure he knows this and he knows that the people of Hawaii are tired of the same old politics.”
Another Democratic opponent in the 2nd Congressional District race that year, Bob Marx, said he was going to ask KKOL for equal time. But Hannemann cancelled his radio show on KKOL June 9, 2012, five days after he filed to run for Congress.
Hannemann also gave up his radio airtime during his unsuccessful bid for governor in 2010.
Hannemann’s Democratic party opponent David Ige declined to comment on Hannemann’s and Davis’s radio shows or on Hannemann’s MidWeek column.
In an emailed statement, Duke Aiona’s press secretary, Dawn O’Brien, said “In a perfect world, of course, equal time for all candidates would be best, especially in the interests of representing the people of Hawaii.”
I am hoping Civil Beat readers will comment on the issue of political candidates continuing to write for newspapers or appear as hosts or performers on radio and TV shows while they are in the midst of political campaigns.
Your comments matter because Civil Beat is read closely by candidates and their campaigns as well as by executives of newspapers and radio and TV stations.