The Republican State Committee of Pennsylvania said Thursday it filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission questioning the legality of an ad campaign by The Scranton Times-Tribune that names senatorial candidate Bob Casey Jr. in a faux headline.
It wants the agency to determine whether the ads constitute an illegal corporate donation to Casey, who is challenging Republican Sen. Rick Santorum in the 2006 election.
“Casey to run for Senate” is written on a headline at the top of a newspaper used in ads for the northeast Pennsylvania newspaper. The ads are being run in the paper and on billboards, buses and television to promote the June 27 merger between The Scranton Times and The Tribune.
“Giant media corporations have a right to say what they want in their news articles and editorials, but using tens of thousands of corporate dollars to promote Casey Jr. in paid advertising potentially rises to the level of an illegal corporate contribution,” Republican State Committee Chairman Eileen Melvin said in a statement.
The contest between Santorum, the No. 3 Senate Republican, and Casey, the state treasurer and son of the late Gov. Bob Casey Sr., has emerged as a focal point of both national parties and is expected to draw millions of dollars in political spending.
The day after Casey announced March 4 that he was running for Senate, The Scranton Times ran a headline that said “Casey In, Hafer Out” in reference to former state Treasurer Barbara Hafer’s decision not to run.
Lawrence K. Beaupre, the newspaper’s managing editor, denied that the headline was changed to promote Casey and said it merely states a fact. Beaupre said the ad campaign reflects the newspaper’s drive to cover local news. Casey is from Scranton.
“It’s ludicrous,” Beaupre said. “They are seeking to make a connection that doesn’t exist.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Saturday that the newspaper’s publisher, George V. Lynett, and his family have donated more than $120,0000 to campaigns by Casey and his brother, Patrick. Lynett, in a Times-Tribune story published Wednesday, did not dispute those figures but denied that the newspaper was attempting to support the Casey campaign with the ads.
Jay Reiff, Casey’s campaign manager, said Casey was in no way involved with the newspaper’s ad campaign.
“The notion that a voter 15 months from now is going to go vote for Bob Casey because of some billboard advertisements about a newspaper is really ridiculous,” Reiff said.
FEC spokesman George Smaragdis said Thursday the complaint had not been received by the agency, but it would not be uncommon for a complaint to arrive by mail after the day it was filed.