Skip to comments.Ad firm funded pay raise backers | Exclusive
Posted on 08/26/2005 7:06:25 AM PDT by Born Conservative
Lamar Advertising, a major campaign benefactor, will not run billboards critical of state legislators.
Executives at a major outdoor advertising company refusing to run billboard ads criticizing state legislative leaders for voting themselves 16- to 34-percent raises, have been a steady source of campaign donations for some of those same lawmakers.
Officials at Lamar Advertising Co., which rejected the critical billboard ads proposed by the Young Conservatives of Pennsylvania, have given nearly $30,000 during the past five years to Pennsylvania candidates and political action committees, according to campaign finance records.
Two of Lamars top executives, based at the company headquarters in Baton Rouge, La., have doled out thousands of dollars to Pennsylvanias political leaders. Those executives are Kevin P. Reilly Jr., Lamars president and chief executive officer, and his brother, Sean E. Reilly, Lamars vice president of mergers and acquisitions.
Kevin Reilly has given $7,400 to Pennsylvania candidates since 2000, including $2,500 to House Speaker John Perzel, R-Philadelphia, considered one of the most powerful politicians in Harrisburg.
Sean Reilly has donated $1,650, including $500 to Perzel and $500 to the House Republican Campaign Committee.
Chris Lilik, chairman of the Young Conservatives of Pennsylvania, said the donations are just another example of the pay to play mentality that permeates Pennsylvanias political arena.
To a certain extent, money drives politics, Lilik said Thursday. The sad reality is that recent political decisions in Harrisburg have gutted Pennsylvanias economic bottom line. (Political action committee) contributions are the easiest way to keep politicians at bay out of your business and away from potentially harmful legislation to your industry.
Lamar spokesman Hal Kilshaw denied any expectation of a quid pro quo and said the companys executives have long had a record of contributing to campaigns throughout the country.
Were politically active in all states in both parties, Kilshaw said. We believe in the political process. We believe that giving to political candidates is an expression of our First Amendment rights to free speech.
Lilik said his group was told by Lamar that the groups ads were unacceptable because they were considered negative political ads, a description Lilik rejects.
Our ads are factual, straightforward and professional, he said. While they dont celebrate the politician, they in no way attack them personally. We carefully stick to the facts. We hope Lamar will reconsider.
Turned away by Lamar, the Young Conservatives are searching for small, independent billboard companies to deliver their message. The group has managed only one billboard, against Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer, R-Altoona, in his legislative district.
Other potential targets are Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Mellow, D-Peckville; Senate Majority Leader David Chip Brightbill, R-Lebanon; House Minority Leader H. William DeWeese, D-Greene; and House Minority Whip Mike Veon, D-Beaver.
A prototype of the Mellow billboard is posted on the groups Web site, www.informedpa.com. The ad features a black-and-white photo of a smiling Mellow alongside this message: Tax hikes, spending increases and a 32% pay raise. Thats our Bob Mellow.
The controversial pay raise law approved by lawmakers in the early morning hours of July 7 boosted the new base salary for state lawmakers to $81,051 from the previous base of $69,700. Legislative leaders and committee heads saw even greater increases in their paychecks.
Locally, Mellow received the largest pay hike, rising to $134,771 from his previous salary of $100,911.
The Young Conservatives are planning a billboard and radio ad in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre market, targeting Mellow.
Mary Ellen Coleman, vice president and general manager of the Scranton-based Lamar Advertising of Northeastern Pennsylvania, has said she would reject the ads for their negative political content.
Coleman has given $7,900 to candidates and committees since 2000, including $1,270 to Mellow. Coleman did not return a call for comment about her campaign donations Thursday.
Other Lamar officials who have given to campaigns are: Stan Geier, general manager of the Pittsburgh office; Kevin Wells, sales manager of the Reading office; and George T. Merovich Sr. of the York/Lancaster office.
With the exception of Wells, all of them contributed to Perzels campaign war chest.
Perzel spokeswoman Beth Williams said the speaker knows of Kevin and Sean Reilly, but has never met them. He also was unaware of Lamars decision not to run the Young Conservatives ads, she said.
Lamar officials also give consistently to their industrys statewide political action committee, the Outdoor Advertising Association of Pennsylvania PAC. Since 2000, that PAC has doled out more than $36,000 to candidates around the state, with the bulk going to leaders and major committee chairman.
Lilik said the outdoor advertising industry is no different than most other industries that do business in Pennsylvania. They know how to work the system, he said.
Big corporations in Pennsylvania have been on the receiving end of millions in corporate welfare, he said. Fewer and fewer companies seem willing to risk the opportunity to stand in line for a tax break or economic development check for some project in the future.
Campaign contributions are the easiest roadmap to a companys strategy for survival in this highly charged political environment in which government gets to pick the winners and losers.
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