A gay marriage referendum on Maryland ballots Nov. 6 has set off a behind-the-scenes fight over a television advertisement, a dispute uncovered by Sunlight's Political Ad Sleuth.
A letter discovered on the database, which tracks political ad filings that local stations are required to post with the Federal Communications Commission, reveals that Marylanders for Marriage Equality has been pressing station managers to take down "Question 6 Doesn't," an ad produced by the Maryland Marriage Alliance, a group on the other side of the debate over same-sex marriage.
Marylanders for Marriage Equality raised a number of complaints about the spot, including copyright concerns. In a letter that turned up on Political Ad Sleuth, the Maryland Marriage Alliance refuted the claims and argued that the rival group was attempting to "bully, threaten, punish their opponents." Responding to a suggestion apparently made in the original complaint (which did not appear in the FCC database), the Marriage Alliance added: "The idea that the station could lose its license over ads like this cannot be taken seriously."
At issue is survival of the Civil Marriage Protection Act, passed by the Maryland legislature and signed into law early this year by Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat. It would allow same-sex couples to marry beginning in 2013. But anti-gay marriage groups gathered enough signatures on petitions to put the question to voters on this year's ballot.
After hearing from the Marriage Alliance, Baltimore station WMAR-TV decided not to cut the ad from its line-up. "This happens a lot in the course of the political season," says Dave Lombardo, sales manager at E.W. Scripps Company. When an entity submits a complaint about an ad, the station solicits a response from the organization responsible. After doing so in this case, the station decided the ad did not violate copyright laws. "We are comfortable continuing to run the spot," says Lombardo.
Political Ad Sleuth allows journalists and voters to find out who's buying the ads bombarding them this political season by making it easy to search and sort files on the online FCC database, as well as upload files from stations that aren't required to do it themselves. To find out more about the project, visit PoliticalAdSleuth.com.