Right-Leaning Sinclair Broadcast Group Solicits Political Donations

Sinclair Broadcast Group 2004 - Getty - H 2017
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Eligible employees were encouraged to contribute to the broadcaster's political action committee.

On Wednesday, eligible Sinclair Broadcast Group employees — thought to be mostly executive types — received an invitation to contribute to the company's political action committee. 

"As always, we want to thank those of you who have contributed to the PAC in the past and encourage you to give again this year," wrote David Amy, who chairs the PAC and is a Sinclair vice chairman. "For those of you who haven't, please take the time to evaluate the importance that the Sinclair PAC can have toward benefiting your company and the needs of the industry as a whole."

A spokeswoman for Sinclair declined comment on the memo, which was first reported by FTVLiveThe memo is thought to be a fairly standard solicitation sent to employees of companies that have political action committees.

But Sinclair is not a fairly standard media company. 

"Sinclair is well known for its very political conservative actions and leanings," said Paul Ryan, vice president of policy and litigation for good governance group Common Cause. "Here, there's little doubt that anyone on staff that contributes to the corporate PAC, their money will not only be used to promote Sinclair's policy preferences around broadcasting laws, but general conservative political causes and candidates."

Common Cause is part of a coalition of groups that oppose Sinclair's pending acquisition of Tribune Media, which has been made possible by regulatory easing. The Sinclair executive referred in the email to "unpopular deregulatory initiatives," undertaken by the Federal Communications Commission and chairman Ajit Pai in recent months.

The missive from Sinclair exec Amy connects Sinclair's policy preferences to the activities of the PAC, which sends contributions to politicians. "Many in Congress believe that broadcasters need more time to repack their stations, and more money to be fully reimbursed for their related expenses," he wrote. "We want to support them and their efforts to ensure a smooth repack that doesn't require any broadcaster to go off air for any period of time ... We need allies in Congress who understand the role of local television and who are willing to defend it in today's ever-changing landscape."

For the 2016 election cycle, Sinclair's PAC made $82,375 in donations to federal candidates. Two-thirds of those donations went to Republicans, and only one third to Democrats. For the 2018 election cycle, so far Sinclair has given 75 percent of its donations to Republican candidates.

While Sinclair's solicitation might raise the eyebrows of journalism purists, Ryan said there appears to be nothing legally noncompliant about the email. The message includes a disclaimer that donations are voluntary, and that employees will not be punished for not donating. "Sinclair clearly has a good campaign finance compliance lawyer," he said.