KVI talk hosts, John Carlson (m-f, 3-6p) and Kirby Wilbur (m-f, 5-9a) are painting themselves to listeners and, of course, voters as 1st Amendment martyrs, and victims of an evil judicial and bureaucratic attack on their blessed rights.
It sound great on the radio, but unfortunately, nobody else in the sexed-up "controversy" knows quite what they're talking about--not their bosses at Fisher Broadcasting, not the Public Disclosure Commission, not the prosecutor they claim is persecuting them.
What's this all about? State law says a campaign can't take a contribution of more than $5,000 from a single source in the last 21 days of an initiative campaign. Thurston County Superior Court Judge Chris Wickham ruled in July the campaign had to report the value of on-air work given before May 31. But I-912 organizers have been valuing the on-air work of KVI radio's Kirby Wilbur and John Carlson at $20,000 a month ever since.
So when the PDC innocently gave the no new gas tax campaign a courtesy call (as they do to all initiative campaigns) reminding them of the 21 day restrictions, Carlson and Wilbur and their legal mouthpieces, cranked up the Mr. Microphone, becrying it as a dire warning from Big Brother: Shut up or else!
"That's what happens when you confuse campaign finance law with free speech and try to put a value on free speech," Wilbur said.
The capitol's newspaper, The Olympian reported:
"Essentially it means my clients are in an extraordinarily difficult position. Carlson and Wilbur probably blew through that $5,000 already," Institute [For Justice] lawyer William Maurer argued late this week, estimating that at a radio ad rate of $140 a minute, the limit would cover just over a half-hour of air time."
Maurer added that Carlson, Wilbur and station owner Fisher Communications have a choice to 'face fines and penalties or shut up and not face fines and penalties.'
Carlson intoned to the PI: "We are seeing a perfect example of how campaign finance laws are regulating the First Amendment out of existence. The idea that I cannot talk about Initiative 912 in the last two and a half weeks of the campaign, which are the most pivotal, is just outrageous."
Truth is: nobody said they couldn't speak in the last two and a half weeks of the campaign except...they, them, themselves.
Fisher Vice President and General manager Rob Dunlap denied Carlson and Wilbur's claims. "...it is an overstatement," he told the Olympian, referring to the talk-show hosts' public statements.
"We are not moving to modify their speech in any way. I shared that personally with John yesterday afternoon, and this morning when I had a chance to talk to Kirby. ...They are free to talk about this initiative, any other initiative or any other matter facing the community we serve."
(Around town, radio folk are asking: how much longer will Fisher put up with the controversy, the legal expenses and the PR pain in the ass of Carlson's political antics and activism? His numbers just ain't that good, lately, is what they're saying...)
Randy Gaylord, the San Juan County prosecutor who brought the original lawsuit against I-912 over Carlson and Wilbur's on-air promotion, said the blabbermeisters can speak freely as long as they are acting as commentators and not as agents of a campaign -- which he argued they were doing during the I-912 launch in May.
But Gaylord explained the real agenda for their playing the constituional victims:
"You know the old adage for a politician -- that any news is good news, no matter how bad it is. Their goal is to make as many motions they can in court over the next two weeks so they can get news coverage. ... It doesn't matter if it is good or bad to them -- it gives them attention."
Attorneys for the I-912 campaign also claim the Public Disclosure Commission warned the campaign this week that the talk show hosts could violate state law and face steep fines if they advocate for I-912.
But PDC officials denied issuing any such warning. They said all campaigns were given a reminder by e-mail that certain deadlines and limitations -- including the $5,000 donation limit-- were taking effect.
Carlson and Wilbur continue their weekdaily blameblitz against the judge, the bureaucratic PDC, Governor Gregoire and the "Olympia elite" for trying to "muzzle" them.
These two do a lot of self-describing: they're free speech crusaders, brave resisters, hardy grass roots-- the disastrous 912 is the "Cinderella initiative" while Governor Gregoire is the Wicked Stepmother.
It's been conventional wisdom that this initiative, tapping the backlash of the white middle class, middle-aged men who are the talk radio audience, will win at the ballot box.
The No campaign was caught flat-footed and got in late; but they've raised a shitload of money, and they're spending it wisely in locally-focused ads and mailings around the state.
It's the Lord's work, and despite being disadvantaged by starting late; lacking the Passion Factor of a base whipped into a daily froth by radio hosts; and having to pay for all their own marketing--there are some signs the anti's may be edging up.
An Elway poll conducted in late September showed that 48% of those polled were against it, 41% were for it and 11 percent were undecided. People seemed less favorable to the idea after they actually read about the transportation package 912 would erase and realize its vital importance and not just the elitist tax-raising boondoggle talk radio proponents claim.
Carlson and Wilbur and the I-912 campaign have no plan except they don't plan to pay more for gas. Their alternative to fixing the roads is not fixing the roads.
There's a no better example of how powerful talk radio can be than the humble AM origins of this initiative. Whether it's successful or not in November, we hope Democrats and liberals will finally wake up.
Talk radio stations: we gotta get us some.