State Watchdog Agency Opens Inquiry Into U-T San Diego's Political Ad Rates
This story was updated at 5:33 p.m., Monday, April 8.The California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) announced today it is looking into whether U-T San Diego offered an improper discount on political advertising during last year’s election.
The probe was prompted by an inewsource/KPBS Investigations Desk analysis, which found that an anti-Bob Filner political action committee paid just over $1,560 per full-page ad in the U-T during the San Diego mayoral race.
Filner’s campaign consultant Tom Shepard said the U-T quoted him a price more than five times higher for one full-page ad. State law allows newspapers to offer such discounts but they must report them as in-kind political contributions, said Gary Winuk, chief of the Enforcement Division at the FPPC.
"Anyone who receives a benefit, for example, not available to the general public can be a contribution and has to be reported," Winuk said. "We’re not commenting on specific facts here.”
There’s no record of the U-T reporting the discount as an in-kind contribution to the anti-Filner PAC.
Early Monday, Ann Ravel, chair of the FPPC, said in a tweet: “an investigation has been opened” on the issue.
But Winuk later clarified the agency was only in the review process.
Winuk said cases are reviewed for about ten days to two weeks before deciding to open "a formal investigation."
"And we send a letter to the person who (the investigation is) being opened against," Winuk said.
The commission does make the complaint public, but not until five days after the person or organization under investigation is notified.
U-T Chief Executive Officer John Lynch said that all political ads were part of a bundle option available to every campaign. He did not respond to a request for comment on the FPPC’s inquiry of the paper’s political advertising rates.
Stacey Fulhorst of the San Diego Ethics Commission declined to say whether the panel is opening its own probe.