Bill Cunningham's recent remarks might do more than embarrass likely GOP presidential nominee John McCain -- they also might violate the settlement that WLW's owner made in 2004 to settle an elections complaint.
Clear Channel Communications, which owns WLW (700 AM), agreed then to settle a complaint filed jointly by Dr. Jean Siebenaler and David Little with the Ohio Elections Commission. Siebenaler was the Democratic opponent of Republican Phil Heimlich in the 2002 race for a seat on the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners, and Little was her political consultant.
Siebenaler's campaign alleged Heimlich and Clear Channel violated state elections law when Heimlich served as a talk show guest host for about a month in February 2002 on another Clear Channel station, WKRC (550 AM), after Heimlich already had filed as a candidate in the commission race.
In the complaint, Siebenaler’s campaign alleged Clear Channel made illegal corporate contributions and violated laws prohibiting corporations from making direct contributions to candidates for elected office by offering the airtime. Also, the complaint alleged that Heimlich knowingly accepted an illegal corporate contribution by accepting the airtime.
Siebenaler had sought the same amount of free airtime from Clear Channel or for the company to bill Heimlich’s campaign for his time as host. Clear Channel refused both requests. The value of the airtime totaled about $200,000 at a per-minute advertisement rate, Siebenaler’s campaign alleged.
The complaint was settled after Heimlich agreed to make a $2,500 contribution to the National League of Women Voters and issue a statement.
Additionally, Clear Channel agreed to change its corporate policies about on-air appearances of political candidates and when its employees may appear at political events. At the time, the change prevented Cunningham from introducing President Bush at a Cincinnati area re-election rally in fall 2004.
Neither Heimlich nor Clear Channel admitted any wrongdoing as part of the settlement.
Heimlich won the election in 2002. He was defeated in his re-election bid in 2006 by Democrat David Pepper.
It’s unclear whether the settlement still is in effect and if Cunningham first sought Clear Channel’s permission before agreeing to introduce McCain. Cunningham and WLW has received massive national publicity after Cunningham repeatedly referred to Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama by his middle name, Hussein, and for calling Obama a “hack politician” involved in shady deals.
Darryl Parks, operations director for Clear Channel’s AM stations in Cincinnati, didn’t return a telephone call and an e-mail today seeking comment about Cunningham’s appearance at the McCain event.
— Kevin Osborne