by Andrew Kerr
Bloomberg News’ refusal to investigate the its billionaire owner, Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg, could violate campaign finance laws, a former member of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Bloomberg News won’t investigate Michael Bloomberg or any of his Democratic primary opponents but will continue to investigate Trump, editor-in-chief John Micklethwait announced on Sunday following his boss’s official campaign launch.
The policy “raises concerns under federal campaign finance law,” said former FEC Commissioner Hans von Spakovsky, citing regulations that exempt news outlets owned by political candidates, such as Bloomberg News, from campaign finance rules as long as those outlets give “reasonably equal coverage to all opposing candidates.”
“The problem with what Bloomberg [News] has announced is that they are not going to be giving equal coverage to all opposing candidates,” Spakovsky told the DCNF. “They’re only going to be covering one opposing candidate, and that’s Donald Trump … if they’re not willing to do any negative stories that might come up about Mike, whereas they are about Trump, then they’re directly helping his campaign.”
“I think if a complaint were to be filed with the FEC, where I served for two years, there would be serious questions raised whether this policy violates this particular provision of the FEC,” Spakovsky said.
Just in: Extraordinary statement from Bloomberg News Editor-In-Chief John Micklethwait about Bloomberg’s coverage plans of Mike Bloomberg’s candidacy: Bloomberg Editorial board suspended, no “investigation” of Mike, his family or foundation: pic.twitter.com/afjsHDQg0d
— Paul Farhi (@farhip) November 24, 2019
Former FEC Chairman Bradley Smith told the DCNF that the key factor to determining whether Bloomberg News’s editorial policy puts its press exemption at risk is whether the commission determines that Trump is Michael Bloomberg’s opponent at this stage of the Democratic primary.
“A good argument nonetheless could be made that the press exemption should not apply here, given Bloomberg’s own declaration, ‘I’m running for president to defeat Donald Trump and rebuild America,’” Smith said, citing Michael Bloomberg’s campaign website.
However, Smith said he believes the better argument is that Michael Bloomberg and Trump aren’t officially considered opponents from a campaign finance perspective until they have secured their respective parties’ nominations.
“I don’t believe that the FEC or a court have ever ruled on this type of situation, so I suppose it’s an open question,” Smith said. “Certainly, it reveals the flaws of having a regime in which some very large, influential corporations (those designated ‘press’) have a freedom that other Americans do not.”
The director of federal reform at the nonpartisan watchdog organization Campaign Legal Center, Brendan Fischer, echoed Smith’s opinion on the matter.
“Bloomberg News declining to cover any Democratic presidential hopeful means that they are giving equal coverage to all opposing candidates in the primary, but President Trump will be the Democratic nominee’s opponent in the general,” Fischer told the DCNF.
Fischer said it would be appropriate for the FEC to weigh in on the legality of Bloomberg News’s editorial policy, but the commission is currently unable to take any official actions as it has only three active commissioners on its six-member board, rendering the agency incapable of meeting its four-member quorum.
Michael Bloomberg’s campaign declined to comment. Bloomberg News did not return a request for comment.
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Andrew Kerr is a reporter for the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Photo “Bloomberg News” by Steve Jurvetson. CC BY 2.0.