Political power reputations haunt TV trio

Cash at the heart of political donors’ broadcast agenda?

After the veracity of his identity was questioned, former DeMaio staffer Justin Harper presented I.D. for a KPBS correspondent.
  • After the veracity of his identity was questioned, former DeMaio staffer Justin Harper presented I.D. for a KPBS correspondent.

The federal broadcast licenses of San Diego's three most politically controversial television stations are up for renewal soon, but despite the complaints of angry partisans, it's unlikely that the wealthy owners and patrons will be forced off the air anytime soon.

Elisabeth Kimmel

Elisabeth Kimmel

The license of CBS affiliate KFMB, operated by La Jollan Elisabeth Kimmel, is set to expire December 1. The station filed for renewal on July 1.

Kimmel, a backer of Carl DeMaio's political career, first came under fire during the primary race for Congressional District 52 when supporters of DeMaio's fellow Republican Kirk Jorgensen accused KFMB and its talk-show host Roger Hedgecock of working against their candidate.

"I would like to have a complaint put [into] KFMB's Public File. I would like to complain about Roger Hedgecock and the blatant campaigning he is doing for Carl DeMaio,” said an email sent by Brian Kyd to the so-called public file, maintained for review by the Federal Communications Commission during license-renewal time.

"I have a favor to ask," said an email bearing KFMB's return address dispatched by Hedgecock, who was forced from office as San Diego mayor during a 1980s political money laundering scandal.

"I have committed to get five contributions for Carl DeMaio’s event this Thursday evening. I'm hoping you can attend, but at the least, can you agree to contribute to make the event a success? Here's the link — please write 'Roger' in the event code.”

An heir to Augie Meyer, an Illinois banker who bought the stations in 1960s, Kimmel sits on the board of the Meyer Charitable Foundation, which has made six-figure contributions to the Illinois-based Academy on Capitalism and Limited Government and the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, both linked to the conservative billionaire Koch brothers.

More questions regarding KFMB's public-interest stewardship were raised in the runoff election between DeMaio and Democratic incumbent Scott Peters after it came to light that station talk-show host Mike Slater taped an interview with DeMaio accuser Todd Bosnich that never aired.

In its license application, KFMB has acknowledged it has encountered issues regarding making its public file available on the web, as required by law.

"Due to an administrative oversight, licensee failed to timely upload all required files to the station’s online public file," according to the application.

"Immediately upon discovering the oversight, the licensee uploaded the missing documents to the station’s online public file. Since discovering the issue, the problem was corrected and licensee has timely filed all subsequent documents to the Station’s online public file."

Mike McKinnon (and wife)

Mike McKinnon (and wife)

KUSI, the non-network-affiliated television station owned by Mike McKinnon, another DeMaio backer, is also set for routine extension next month.

Like Kimmel, McKinnon is a longtime financial backer of local GOP causes and accused by critics of using the station to promote his personal political agenda.

Earlier this year he gave $5000 each to the Neighborhood Coalition Supporting Chris Cate for Council 2014 and Neighbors United for a Better City Government Supporting Lorie Zapf for Council 2014. He also gave $5000 to the exclusive inaugural party for GOP mayor Kevin Faulconer. Records show he gave $2600 to DeMaio's congressional campaign last year.

Irwin Jacobs

Irwin Jacobs

Meanwhile, KPBS, the public television station run by San Diego State University and financially backed by Qualcomm billionaire Democrat Irwin Jacobs, — for whom the station’s newsroom is named —is up for renewal at the same time as its two commercial cousins.

In light of its heavy financing by Jacobs, a staunch Peters supporter, the operation has been criticized by DeMaio forces, who have asserted that a last-minute attack on their candidate aired by the station didn't meet the smell test.

According to a report by Inewsource.org, a non-profit website that has a news partnership with KPBS, DeMaio campaign consultant Dave McCulloch questioned whether the accuser, ex-DeMaio staffer Justin Harper, "was someone pretending to be Harper who wanted to smear DeMaio."

The station fired back by arranging an online video hookup with Harper, said to be currently in Ohio, who held up a driver's license as proof of his identity.

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