Voting rights advocacy group claims censorship
A voting rights and campaign finance watchdog group is claiming political favoritism and censorship after allegedly being denied the ability to post billboards in Mitchell and McDowell counties.
Democracy North Carolina tried to post billboards calling attention to the ongoing investigation by the State Board of Elections into the campaign finances of state Sen. Ralph Hise, a Mitchell County Republican and chair of the Senate Select Committee on Elections.
The State Board of Elections began investigated Hise has after he allegedly withdrew about $10,000 in excess “loan repayments” from his campaign and failed to disclose receiving more than $9,000 in donations from political action committees.
“We’ve been trying to let the voters in Sen. Hise’s district know about his problems for a month, but the billboard industry seems so worried about making him mad that they are refusing to rent us space for our message,” said Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina.
Hall said in a press release he was initially encouraged to rent space by sales agents at two companies; he selected billboard locations, submitted the artwork and sent it back with modifications requested by the agents. He signed a contract with Lamar Outdoor Advertising for a billboard in Spruce Pine and a contract with Fairway Advertising for another billboard along I-40 in McDowell County.
In both cases, regional managers of Lamar and Fairway Outdoor Advertising called to cancel the contracts, saying the message proposed for the billboards “was political and too controversial” or “too controversial and could cause problems for the company,” according to the press release.
“It was very clear in talking with the billboard executives that we’re the victim of political favoritism and censorship,” Hall said. “Billboard companies are involved in plenty of controversial and political advertising, but they also have high-priced lobbyists, they want favorable legislation and they don’t want to anger a powerful state senator at this crucial time.”
Hall claimed in the press release one of the companies has a billboard attacking Muslim on I-40.
“It’s very disappointing,” Hall said. “But we’ll continue to shine the light on Sen. Hise’s campaign violations and expose whatever he is hiding.”
At least one of the billboards has been posted on U.S. 19E near the Yancey-Madison county line.
As of press time Hise was more than 50 days past the May 5 deadline set to amend his campaign finance reports.