Rev. Frank Does It His Way

Campaign foolishness aficionados had their hopes raised when Eric Mitchell declared for mayor, but were disappointed when Mitchell informed the world (via a press release) that he would not be appearing at public forums. The candidate recently made liars of his campaign supporters -- who said at Mitchell's Oct. 16 city hall press conference that he could not attend due to a family illness -- by stating he never intended to show up anyway.

Speaking of media outreach, Mitchell has agreed to only two radio talk-show stints: The shows of those fountains of journalistic objectivity, Frank Garrett (The Wake-Up Call, KAZI-FM 88.7) and Bob Cole and Sammy Allred (The Sam and Bob Show, KVET-FM 98.1). On Tuesday, quick-fingered drive-time radio hounds could hear Garrett devoting two worshipful hours to Mitchell and his campaign, while simultaneously Sammy and Bob berated front-runner Gus Garcia for his support of light rail (occasionally even allowing a bemused Garcia to get a word in edgewise). KVET is a commercial station, relatively protected by Sammy and Bob's approach of inviting all the candidates to appear and then simply ranting each into submission. But as a noncommercial, nonprofit station, KAZI may have violated federal law by allowing Garrett to use his show as the broadcast mouthpiece for a political candidate. According to the U.S. Code (Title 47, Section 399), "No noncommercial educational broadcasting station may support or oppose any candidate for political office." And UT law professor David Anderson, an authority on mass communications law, said if the station licensee (the board or the corporate entity that owns the station) allows a programmer to use his or her show to support a particular candidate, it could be liable for criminal sanctions from both the Federal Communications Commission and the Internal Revenue Service (which monitors non-profit status).

Asked about the potential liability, KAZI station manager Steve Savage initially said that while Garrett had not literally "endorsed" Mitchell on the air, he would "resolve the problem." Later, he told the Chronicle (1) because Mitchell was initially drafted as "a people's candidate" the law didn't apply; (2) other candidates are invited to appear on Garrett's program; (3) Garrett's program is syndicated; and (4) Garrett is not a paid employee of the station.

Unfortunately, Anderson confirmed that none of these responses are a defense against Garrett's enthusiastic support for Mitchell and his campaign, including cutting off and then angrily denouncing any callers who happen to doubt (as one did Monday) Mitchell's "divine authority to speak for all of East Austin." Moreover, even while Mitchell was reciting on the air his pledge to accept no campaign donations of any sort, including "in-kind" donations, he was doing exactly that -- accepting free air time from Garrett and KAZI.

Since Mitchell's appearance, Garrett has reiterated his broadcast invitation for other candidates to appear. But Paul Saldaña, spokesman for the Garcia campaign, says that he has received no invitation from KAZI or Garrett. Currently, Garcia has no plans to appear on The Wake-Up Call.

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