By Erich Wagner (File photo)
If you tuned into the local NPR affiliate WAMU last week, you probably heard the name of Democratic congressional candidate Don Beyer. But it wasn’t related to any news out of the hotly contested race to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-8).
Beyer’s car dealership, Don Beyer Volvo, had a series of corporate underwriting spots with the station, advertising on programs like “Morning Edition,” “The Kojo Nnamdi Show” and others. But residents and rival congressional candidates accused the former lieutenant governor of trying to bypass campaign finance laws.
The station pulled the ads Monday morning.
WAMU spokeswoman Benae Mosby said in an email to the Times that the sponsorship messages, which began May 12, were nixed as a precautionary measure until after the election.
“The sponsorship messages for the Don Beyer Volvo car dealership have been pulled from the rotation out of an abundance of caution, as the station works with legal counsel to assess whether they are allowable under the Communications Act [of 1934],” Mosby wrote.
According to FEC rules, a political candidate’s company can buy advertising that mentions him or her by name only if the type of advertising and content are consistent with the company’s marketing prior to a political campaign and the advertising does not promote the candidate or attack others in the race.
Delegate Patrick Hope (D-47) applauded the station’s decision to pull the messages in a statement, saying it encourages a level playing field among the candidates.
“I hope other media outlets will follow WAMU’s example and enforce a fair campaign in the 8th District,” Hope said. “Nobody should be allowed to buy an election.”
Beyer said in an email that his car dealership has sponsored public radio programs on WAMU for three decades and those messages have never conflicted with his work in politics.
“We are disappointed by WAMU’s decision, which we believe will have no impact on the family’s car sales, nor on our commitment to support public radio in the years to come,” Beyer wrote. “My family business has run ads during my three statewide elections. Never before has a Republican or Democratic opponent characterized the company’s advertising as unfair.”
But Geoff Skelley, a veteran analyst with the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said the timing of this round of radio spots is suspicious at best.
“I think we can say pretty safely that there was perhaps some political calculation put into the timing of that sponsorship or that underwriting,” he said. “The campaign might say otherwise, but why would that have started a month away from the primary? And the fact that the station pulled it suggests that they are aware that they may have incidentally walked into something they didn’t mean to.”