Comcast blocks ads for Oregon’s ‘Measure 97,’ escalates battle over corporate taxes

Image: Comcast

Comcast blocked an ad for an Oregon ballot measure calling for an increase to corporate taxes, reversing its decision only after the advertisement’s backers removed the MSO’s corporate logo from the commercials. 

The ads support Measure 97, which would raise state taxes on corporations who make $25 million or more in Oregon. Supporters say the the law could put an additional $3 billion in the state coffers of Oregon, which has some of the lowest corporate tax laws in the country. 

Comcast originally blocked three commercial spots supporting Measure 97 from its VOD service, agreeing to run them only when the political consultant backing the campaign replaced Comcast’s logo with one from San Francisco-based bank Wells Fargo. 

“A few ads from ‘Yes on 97’ included Comcast’s logo, which the Comcast Spotlight account executive asked them to remove,” Comcast spokesman Sena Fitzmaurice said in an email to The Hill. “The advertiser provided revised spots, which are currently airing.”

Fitzmaurice also said the company had received cease-and-desist letters from both supporters and opponents of Measure 97, which required them to request additional substantiation from both sides backing up the claims made in those advertisements.

For his part, the political consultant backing the campaign, John Coghlan, is incredulous. 

“It’s ridiculous. I’ve never experienced anything like this. It’s very unusual,” he told The Hill

Still, Comcast’s VOD ad sales division, Comcast Spotlight, doesn’t seem to be under any obligation to run Coghlan’s ads. For one, Measure 97 isn’t a candidate running for office and entitled to equal time. For another, Comcast isn’t an over-the-air broadcaster. 

“There really isn’t any law that I can think of or regulation that would in any way prohibit that,” said Robert Drechsel, director of the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Journalism Ethics. “When you subscribe to cable, you’re in control. You don’t have to take it, but if you do, you take what the cable system offers,” Drechsel added. “Whereas in broadcast, the public owns the airwaves, and therefore the broadcasters act as stewards for the public interest.”

Earlier this year, Comcast was accused of using its pricey, 2 Gbps "Gigabit Pro" service to try to exploit Oregon tax laws that were originally put on the books to lure Google Fiber.

Last last year, Oregon state lawmakers quickly put together laws that mitigated so-called "central assessment," which taxes companies, including telecom operators, based on the value of their brands.

Comcast fought those assessment rules in court, but lost out in a 2014 state supreme court ruling.

But the new law exempts companies that make gigabit-speed services to most Oregon broadband users. The goal, according to the Portland Oregonian, was to lure Google Fiber to the region. But the paper said the law change could have the unintended affect of discounting "tends of millions of dollars" from Comcast's corporate tax bill in the region.

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