Newspaper publisher fined for misleading ads

DOWNEY – Local newspaper publisher Brian Hews will be fined $5,000 for publishing misleading political advertisements during last year’s election cycle. The fine is part of a settlement between Hews and the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission, which accused Hews of publishing political attack ads against Norwalk councilwoman Cheri Kelley and Cerritos councilwoman Carol Chen in early 2013.

According to FPPC attorneys, Hews published seven advertisements in Los Cerritos Community News and Norwalk Community News, and also online, opposing the reelection of Kelley and Chen. The ads did not disclose the name of the political action committee (PAC) that was funding the advertisements.

The PAC, known as Citizens for a Clean and Honest Local Government, was founded and operated by Hews.

An additional 12 advertisements identified the PAC but did not include a statement indicating that they were not authorized by a candidate or a committee controlled by a candidate, as required by law. Two other ads contained erroneous disclosure language, state officials said.

In all, Hews published 21 advertisements opposing the re-election of Kelley and Chen without properly disclosing they were funded by Hews’ own PAC.

One ad, published Feb. 1, 2013, accused Chen of being “an agent of Communist China.” A disclaimer falsely attributed the ad to the Service Employees International Union, prompting the union to file a complaint.

Exactly one month later, the March 1, 2013 issue of Norwalk Community News contained two front-page ads against Cheri Kelley, along with an unsigned editorial opposed to her re-election.

Both women were re-elected anyway.

“The public harm inherent in these types of violations, where pertinent information is not disclosed by the committee, is that the public is deprived of a means to discover the nature of the committee’s campaign expenses and the committee responsible for the political advertisements,” Gary Winuk, chief enforcement officer for the FPPC, wrote in a court briefing.

“The failure to provide proper disclosure for an advertisement is a serious violation of the (Political Reform Act) because it deprives the public of important information regarding the funding of the advertisement,” Winuk added. “In this matter, (Hews) failed to include proper disclosure on multiple advertisements.”

The ads were valued at $11,455.

FPPC investigators also accused Hews of failing to file supplemental independent expenditure reports related to the PAC.

Hews faced a maximum fine of $10,000 but agreed to the $5,000 penalty, pending approval by the FPPC at its April 17 meeting.

Hews, who declined to comment for this story, received national attention in February when he was caught plagiarizing a viral column.



Published: April 10, 2014 - Volume 12 - Issue 52