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Lawyers Line Up To Defend, Or Challenge, Spadea’s On-Air Candidacy.

As New Jersey’s Election Law Enforcement Commission considers whether Townsquare Media talk station “New Jersey 101.5” WKXW Trenton’s decision to keep morning drive host Bill Spadea on air since having announced his run for Governor constitutes an indirect financial benefit to his campaign, lawyers for Spadea, Townsquare, and other gubernatorial candidates have all weighed in.

After having issued an order-to-show-cause last week, ELEC will hold a hearing Friday to determine whether Spadea’s 20-hour-per-week presence on WKXW will affect his ability to receive matching funds under New Jersey’s $2-for-every-$1 gubernatorial public financing law.

According to a New Jersey Globe report, Spadea’s attorneys, former Republican National Committee Council Charlie Spies and New Jersey political lawyer John Carbone, maintain that “the radio show is a bona fide news program [that] is not broadcast on behalf of any candidate or candidate’s committee, [but] instead in furtherance of Townsquare’s institutional function to provide the people of New Jersey with news coverage,” thereby claiming ELEC has no jurisdiction in the matter.

“What is rotten is the concept that Mr. Spadea should have to — on short notice in a newly created process, and without any complaint or evidence of a campaign finance violation in this Commission’s jurisdiction — ‘show cause’ and defend himself in advance of exercising his right to free speech,” Spadea’s lawyers say. “The attempt here to treat the policy and news discussions of Mr. Spadea’s radio program as an in-kind contribution to his campaign unambiguously violates the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, and cannot and would not survive judicial scrutiny.”

Both lawyers suggest that “the procedure that should have been followed here is if Mr. Spadea at some point in the future engaged in campaign advocacy on his radio program, then at that point an investigation and/or enforcement action could be initiated. If it was then determined that the value of that radio broadcast was in fact an in-kind contribution to his campaign, then the campaign would be obligated to refund the value of such broadcast to the station and/or pay a civil penalty as determined by the commission.”

Lawyers for Republican gubernatorial candidates Jack Ciattarelli and Jon Bramnick take the opposing point of view, contending that Spadea’s air time has value and therefore should be counted against his $8.7 million spending cap. Ciattarelli attorney Mark Sheridan puts the value of Spadea’s airtime at close to $360,000 per week, saying “Spadea and Townsquare cannot credibly suggest that allowing Spadea to be on the radio for four hours per day to discuss his opinion on politics and policy issues is not providing his candidacy with a ‘thing of value’ or contribution, while at the same time, they are charging Ciattarelli for Governor $500 per minute for airtime,” telling ELEC that Spadea and WKXW “provide coverage to a single candidate and a single point of view.”

Brammick lawyer William Burns says, “Mr. Spadea’s dual role as a talk show host and gubernatorial candidate transforms his radio show into an in-kind contribution from Townsquare Media. His program offers substantial promotional advantages to his campaign, including unrestricted market access and significant advertising influence typically purchased by other candidates. The continuation of Mr. Spadea’s show during his candidacy should be subject to in-kind contribution regulations, irrespective of internal station guidelines.”

Meanwhile, Angelo Genova, the election lawyer representing Townsquare — which filed that Spadea will no longer be able to appear on his radio show once he is a “legally qualified candidate” after submitting nominating petitions to run in the GOP primary in March 2025 — argues that his “continued presence on air is part of his longstanding employment,” and that “while ELEC’s powers to enforce the Act are broad, they are not without limit. Townsquare does not provide Spadea with airtime as a means for him to promote his candidacy, advocate for the defeat of political opponents, or otherwise conduct campaign-related activities.”

Genova suggests that an ELEC ruling classifying Spadea’s on-air shift as an in-kind contribution “would open the door to excessive regulation of media activities involving any candidate, [which] could lead to a chilling effect on free speech, where media outlets might refrain from hiring or retaining any individual with political aspirations for fear of regulatory repercussions. Such a policy would also burden media companies with the constant threat of campaign finance violations, stifling their ability to operate freely and independently.”

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