Newspaper Threatened with $150K Tax for Criticizing Lawmaker for Cronyism

Newspaper Threatened with $150K Tax for Criticizing Lawmaker for Cronyism

According to the editor of a Washington state newspaper, the Columbian is being targeted by a proposed tax of $150,000 for running a series of unflattering articles about a state senator. Editor Lou Brancaccio claims that Sen. Don Benton, the subject of the articles, is retaliating with the hefty tax by falsely accusing the paper of being “one of the top polluters in the county.”

The Columbian has excoriated Benton, a Republican, for taking on a six-figure job as the Clark County’s director of environmental services last May. According to Fox News, many Washington state lawmakers take on day jobs. The Columbian reported that Benton was not fit for the position and that he did not meet “the minimum requirements” for the job. Moreover, the paper claimed that Benton was appointed to the director position as a result of “political cronyism.”

One of the Senator’s initial assignments in his new job was to find ways to generate revenue to pay off a $3.6 million fine that the county was assessed due to violating the Clean Water Act. In a “brainstorming session,” Benton came up with the idea that they could fine newspapers at 1.5 cents per paper distributed to all newspapers with circulations over 50,000.

The senator defended his idea, claiming that newspapers are one of the top five polluters nation-wide. Perhaps it isn’t a coincidence that the Columbian is the only paper in the county that has a circulation above 50,000, making it the only newspaper subject to the fine. Significantly, based on its current circulation, its annual fine would be about $150,000.

Mr. Brancaccio expressed his views on the matter in a recent Columbian editorial. “It’s politics at its worst,” he wrote. “And because these guys also are terrible at masking their payback, they’re not even good at being bad politicians. They feel so invincible, they simply act in the open and tell the public ‘Screw you; what are you going to do about it?'”

When asked for his opinion by Fox News, Kevin Goldberg, legal counsel to the American Society of News Editors, said the county is going to have to come up with a lot of proof as to why the proposal was necessary and added, “This would raise serious First Amendment questions.”