Published August 18. 2014 4:00AM Updated August 18. 2014 3:36PM
Candidate talks politics on real estate show, but law requires only equal-time offer to opponents
Every Sunday at 11 a.m., residents of southeastern Connecticut can tune their radios to 94.9 WJJF-FM to listen to an hourlong show called "Win at Real Estate with Lori Hopkins-Cavanagh."
Although the station describes the show as "helping you navigate through the complex world of real estate," recent episodes have combined campaign speech and political promotion.
Host Hopkins-Cavanagh, a real estate broker whoran for mayor of New London in 2011, spent the entire Aug. 10 show discussing her ideology and her campaign to represent Connecticut's 2nd District in the U.S. House of Representatives.
"We can change what's happening in Washington, D.C., and Hartford by changing the people we send there," she told her listeners, after spending the first 9 minutes of her show describing problems with the current leadership.
"I'm running for Congress against Joe Courtney in November," the Republican candidate continued, "and I'd like you to send me to Washington, D.C. Visit loriforcongress.com, like me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter."
Since being endorsed by the Republican party in May to run against Courtney, the incumbent Democrat, Hopkins-Cavanagh has spent more than 14 hours on 94.9. Her weekly "Win at Real Estate" time slot makes up the bulk of that time, but she's also made appearances on conservative talk shows "The Lee Elci Show" and "JB in the Afternoon," and spent two hours filling in for the host of the latter in late July.
Nothing in FCC regulations prohibits Hopkins-Cavanagh's on-air campaigning. The constitutional right to freedom of speech allows the station to broadcast whatever it wants, short of obscenity or indecency. However, during campaigns, if a political candidate is on air for any reason, the station must allow his or her opponents an equal amount of time, during a similar time of day, for a comparable price.
The Federal Communications Commission's political programming rules do not require the station to notify a candidate's opponents of political appearances, only to record information about an appearance in the station's public file and keep that available for inspection. To claim equal time, a candidate's opponent must request it within seven days of the candidate's appearance.
WJJF's public file shows that several other candidates appeared on air during the primary season. None of them paid for time, and it appears they were guests on scheduled shows.
Republican primary candidates John McKinney, Tom Foley, Penny Bacchiochi, David Walker and Heather Somers all appeared on the station. Candidates for the General Assembly also appeared, including Democrat Bill Satti and Republicans Paul Formica and Devin Carney. None accumulated more than three hours of air time.
Although her interviews and guest-hosting were free, Hopkins-Cavanagh pays $250 a week for her hourlong real estate show. Her campaign manager, James McGill, said the political topics are nothing new for "Win at Real Estate."
"The show has focused on political commentary since inception," said McGill in an email. Hopkins-Cavanagh did not return requests for comment, allowing her campaign manager to speak on her behalf.
"Real estate and property rights are intimately mixed with public policy," said McGill, adding that the show is not part of a campaign strategy.
Hopkins-Cavanagh's Aug. 10 comments, however, focused on her criticism of "progressive liberal policies" and Democrats who treat small business people "with disdain" and want to punish them through taxation. She said that "is destroying our country and destroyed Connecticut."
Then comes the reminder that the way to fix these problems is to elect new representatives, like the show's host.
"The taxpayer in the Second Congressional District is being mugged," said Hopkins-Cavanagh at one point, telling listeners that to fix that, "you can boot out the incumbents in this blue state."
Neither Courtney nor Libertarian congressional candidate Dan Reale has asked for equal time to Hopkins-Cavanagh.
Station owner John Fuller said he has personally invited Courtney to appear on 94.9 on two occasions.
"Although we are a conservative talk station, both sides are very important to our listeners," said Fuller, adding that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will be on the "Lee Elci Show" in the near future "for balance, and we value his opinion."
"There have been multiple times that we have invited (Courtney) and would love to have his thoughts and open phone lines to listeners," said Fuller, who said he would interview the congressman himself should Courtney object to the political leanings of Elci or host James Brady, a retired state trooper, who is known as JB.
Courtney's campaign manager, Tim Brown, declined to address questions about whether Courtney was aware of Hopkins-Cavanagh's radio appearances and whether he intends to request equal time at any point.
"Lopsided partisan access to public airwaves is a serious question for the owners of a public radio license, which others can judge," said Brown in a written statement. "In the meantime, Congressman Courtney is focused on bread-and-butter issues in the Second District."
Elci and JB haveinvited Courtney on their shows, said Fuller. In a July 21 email shared with The Day, Elci asked, "can I get Joe on my show????" in response to a press release from Courtney's chief of staff.
On July 25, Brady notified Courtney's campaign that Hopkins-Cavanagh would guest-host his show. On June 11, he told the campaign about plans to interview Hopkins-Cavanagh, though not required to do so by law, and invited Courtney to appear "sometime at his choosing."
Brown replied to the June 11 email, thanking Brady for the invitation and promising to contact him "if an opportunity arises" for an appearance.
Although it's unclear whether Courtney will take advantage of the equal time rule during this campaign, Reale, who was endorsed by the Connecticut Libertarian party, said Thursday that he is "definitely" interested in the time.
The freelance paralegal from Plainfield, who also ran for Congress in 2010 and 2012, said he plans to request equal time to Hopkins-Cavanagh as soon as his work schedule permits.
Given "the way she comes off," said Reale, it fits with his strategy to "let her have all the time she wants."