It was less than two weeks ago that Clear Channel Outdoor, a division of the broadcast and advertising giant, said it had no intention of removing ads purchased by an anonymous group for dozens of its Cleveland, Columbus and Milwaukee billboards–many in African-American neighborhoods — warning that “voter fraud is a felony.” The company invoked as reasons the First Amendment and contractual obligations.
On Monday, the company set those issues aside and announced that the ads would indeed come down.
Clear Channel has taken a drubbing from civil rights groups and labor unions about what critics say is the brazenly intimidating message of the billboards, which feature a massive judge’s gavel and a warning that fraud is punishable by up to 3 1/2 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. An online petition had gathered more than 100,000 signatures. It also was not lost on critics that Clear Channel, which syndicates Rush Limbaugh and other Obama-bashing commentators, is co-owned by Bain Capital, Mitt Romney’s old private equity firm.
Clear Channel Outdoor spokesman Jim Cullinan, who acknowledged earlier this month that the billboards violated the company’s policy against accepting anonymous political advertising, said in a statement to multiple media outlets that the client agreed to discontinue the ads. “We asked the client how they would prefer to work with us to bring the boards into conformance with our policy,” Cullinan said. “The client thought that the best solution was to take the boards down, so we are in the process of removing them.”