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Friday, November 19, 2010

Joe Scarborough Suspended Over Campaign Donations Too

Joe Scarborough Suspended From MSNBC For Campaign Donations

MSNBC said Friday that it is suspending “Morning Joe” co-host Joe Scarborough for two days after he acknowledged giving eight previously unknown $500 contributions to friends and family members running for state and local offices during his tenure at the network, a violation of parent NBC’s ban on political contributions by employees without specific permission from the network president.

“I recognize that I have a responsibility to honor the guidelines and conditions of my employment, and I regret that I failed to do so in this matter,” Scarborough said in a statement. “I apologize to MSNBC and to anyone who has been negatively affected by my actions,” he said, adding that after he was made aware of some of the contributions, he called MSNBC President Phil Griffin “and agreed with Phil's immediate demand of a two-day suspension without pay.”

POLITICO had sought comment from the network after finding evidence that Scarborough gave at least five previously unknown $500 contributions while serving as an MNBC host — all to Republican candidates to whom he was close who were running for state legislative seats in or near Scarborough’s hometown of Pensacola, Fla. After being contacted by POLITICO about the donations, Scarborough voluntarily disclosed three other $500 contributions to a friend running for county office in Florida.

Scarborough’s suspension, during which he will not be paid, will end Wednesday, Griffin said in a statement, adding, “As Joe recognizes, it is critical that we enforce our standards and policies.”

The disciplinary action against Scarborough, a former Republican congressman who also writes a weekly column for POLITICO, came two weeks after MSNBC announced it was suspending “Countdown” host Keith Olbermann “indefinitely” for three contributions he made to Democratic candidates during the 2010 campaign cycle. The network later reduced the suspension to two days.

After the Olbermann suspension, POLITICO found two other contributions in Scarborough’s name, though the network said he had permission for one and accepted his explanation that the other was actually given by his wife.

Still, Griffin said in his statement that, the Olbermann situation prompted a conversation with Scarborough about political giving, in which the host “did not recall” the Florida contributions.

Olbermann’s suspension provoked outrage from many supporters of the former sportscaster, whose liberal opinions have helped define MSNBC as a counterpoint to Fox News with its conservative show hosts such as Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly. Other critics said it was pointless to enforce the standards of objective news organizations with hosts whose entire appeal is based largely on their ideological viewpoints and their personalities.

The eight newly unearthed contributions from Scarborough, who left Congress in 2001, were all made since he joined MSNBC fulltime as host of the evening show "Scarborough Country” in 2003.

They include a pair of checks to Scarborough’s brother, George Scarborough, an attorney who twice ran for state legislature, as well as three to a father-son legislative duo who have known Joe Scarborough since the mid-1990s, and three to Scarborough’s former congressional chief of staff David Stafford, who is Escambia County’s elected supervisor of elections.

The five state legislative donations – each of which was for the state’s legal maximum of $500 per election – turned up in a search of the Florida Division of Election’s campaign finance database. Some were recorded in variations of Scarborough’s full name, Charles Joseph Scarborough. In each case, his wife, Susan Scarborough gave matching contributions on the same day.

Joe and Susan Scarborough each contributed $1,000 ($500 last year and another $500 this year) tostate legislative candidate Matt Gaetz, who won an April special election for a suburban Pensacola seat. And the Scarboroughs also each gave $500 in 2005 to the state senate campaign of Gaetz’s father, Don Gaetz.

“These contributions were nothing more than simple acts of friendship,” Scarborough said in his statement Friday. “I gained nothing personally, politically, or professionally from these donations.”

But a close friend of Scarborough’s was more dismissive about the donations. “These are bulls-- local races that mean nothing to Joe,” the friend said. “Anybody who knows Joe’s life wouldn’t be surprised by the fact that these small, local donations were not top-of-mind.”

Pointing out that Scarborough on Friday was in NBC’s Washington bureau to conduct an interview with Vice President Joe Biden, the friend said “Nobody is more pissed by this distraction than Joe. He goes from interviewing the vice president of the United States to being asked about local races in Escambia and Okaloosa County, years ago. Give me a break.”

Like Scarborough’s previously disclosed contributions to Kitts and Merrill, the newly unearthed Florida contributions do seem to reflect support for longtime friends – and, in the case of his brother, close relatives.

The Gaetz’s relationship with Joe Scarborough dates back to his first congressional campaign in 1994, when Don Gaetz was running for school board and, due to a scheduling conflict, could not attend a cattle call-style debate featuring candidates for a range of offices, including Scarborough.

Gaetz asked his son Matt, then a precocious 12-year-old, to take his place.

Scarborough, then in his early 30s, joked that “he wanted to bring me to all the debates because nobody would say that he was too young to run for Congress,” recalled Matt Gaetz, who said he was so impressed by Scarborough, that he wanted to help his campaign.

“I reached in my pocket and I think I had about $12 on me, and I made a contribution to his first campaign for Congress in 1994 when nobody thought he could win,” Gaetz said. “So, when I decided to run for state representative, I called him up and asked if he would return the favor – if he would contribute to my campaign.”

Matt Gaetz also reported receiving $500 from Scarborough’s son Charles in 2009, when the latter was a college student in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Both Gaetzes remain in the Florida legislature. And Matt Gaetz said he keeps in touch with Scarborough via periodic phone calls and text messages, and considers him a mentor.

The Beltway debate over whether journalists should refrain from contributing to campaigns should take a backseat to the First Amendment, Gaetz said. “I don’t think you check your individual liberties when you step in front of a television camera or a microphone.”

Asked his thoughts on NBC’s policy of requiring employees to seek permission before contributing to campaigns, Gaetz said “That would be up to NBC not me. I’m a lowly state representative in Florida. I’ll let them make their own corporate policies.”

The Scarboroughs’ contributions to George Scarborough, an attorney, came in 2005, before he dropped out of a state legislative race, and 2007, when he lost in a primary.

After Olbermann’s donations were first reported by POLITICO, a search of campaign finance records also found contributions in Scarborough’s name in the amount of $4,200 to the Oregon congressional race of close friend Derrick Kitts in 2006, and for $5,000 in April to Alabama legislative candidate John Merrill, another old friend.

An MSNBC spokesman said at the time that the first donation complied with network policy because “Joe sought permission in advance.” And Scarborough’s co-host on “Morning Joe,” Mika Brzezinski told POLITICO, that it should have been recorded in the name of Scarborough’s wife. POLITICO was provided a copy of the bank transfer, which was dated April 9 and signed by Susan Scarborough.

Joe Scarborough Suspended Over Political Donations

MSNBC TV host Joe Scarborough was suspended without pay for two days Friday for making eight campaign donations to Florida political candidates, in violation of NBC News ethics policy.

Scarborough, a former Republican member of Congress from Florida and host of the cable network's "Morning Joe" program, said he agreed with the decision by msnbc President Phil Griffin, which was similar to the sanction Griffin imposed two weeks ago on another host on the network, Keith Olbermann.

When Olbermann, host of "Countdown with Keith Olbermann," was suspended Nov. 5 for making donations to three Democratic congressional candidates, Scarborough acknowledged that two political contributions had been made in his name, but he said they had been made by his wife.

Griffin said in a statement that Scarborough informed him Friday that he had in fact made eight contributions from 2004 to 2008 to local candidates in Florida that he did not recall.

"He will be immediately suspended for two days without pay and will return to the air on Wednesday, November 24th," Griffin said. "As Joe recognizes, it is critical that we enforce our standards and policies."

In his own statement Friday, Scarborough he had "recently" been made aware of the contributions and told Griffin about them himself.

Like many news organizations, NBC News, parent of msnbc TV, prohibits political contributions by its journalists without prior approval of the president. (, a joint venture of NBC Universal and Microsoft Corp., also has a policy against its journalists contributing to political campaigns.)

"Anyone working for NBC News who takes part in civic or other outside activities may find that these activities jeopardize his or her standing as an impartial journalist because they may create the appearance of a conflict of interest," the NBC News policy reads.

"Such activities may include participation in or contributions to political campaigns or groups that espouse controversial positions. You should report any such potential conflicts in advance to, and obtain prior approval of, the president of NBC News or his designee."

Scarborough said he made the contributions to the candidates — his brother and three family friends — as "simple acts of friendship."

"I gained nothing personally, politically, or professionally from these donations," he said. Nonetheless, he said he agreed with Griffin's decision and said, "I apologize to MSNBC and to anyone who has been negatively affected by my actions."

Scarborough's reaction was in sharp contrast to that of Olbermann, whose suspension ignited a firestorm of protest from supporters who created an online petition that attracted more than 250,000 signatures. Olbermann apologized to his supporters but not to NBC News and broadcast a commentary objecting to having been punished "without a hearing."

Sources: MSNBC, Politico, Youtube

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