Calif. Dems File FCC Complaint on GOP Ads

A gift of free air time to GOP candidates from a Fresno-area broadcaster drew challenges on several fronts Thursday, as Democrats tried to stop the ads from running in key areas before Tuesday's election.

Attorneys representing Assemblywoman Nicole Parra (search), D-Hanford, filed a formal complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (search) arguing that Pappas Telecasting Cos. violated federal equal time rules by offering free time to GOP Assembly candidate Dean Gardner (search) of Bakersfield -- but not to Parra.

Parra's lawyers also filed a complaint with the state's Fair Political Practices Commission, saying Pappas' offer of $25,000 in free radio and TV air time made to 13 county GOP committees violate contribution limits, among other regulations.

Also, Rep. John Dingell (search) of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the U.S. House committee that oversees the FCC, released a letter Thursday to FCC Chairman Michael Powell (search), which also called on the agency to act immediately on the Pappas case.

As recently as Wednesday Pappas executives and attorneys insisted the donations were legal and had been cleared by federal officials. But Pappas attorney Brian Hildreth said Thursday only that the company was reviewing the complaints and would "cooperate fully with the FCC."

Although the donations were disclosed nearly a week ago and immediately sparked protest from Democrats, no complaints could be filed with regulators until candidates actually took advantage of the offer -- something that did not begin until Wednesday when Pappas's stations in the Fresno area began broadcasting some of Gardner's free ads.

In his letter to the FCC, Parra's attorney James Harrison said Pappas has made $74,000 in free airtime available to Gardner so far. He said Pappas has refused to give the same opportunity to his client.