Four Virginia television stations have refused to run commercials attacking Democratic gubernational candidate Henry E. Howell that were made by a newly formed conservative group created to "expose" Howell's record.
In a day of spirited outcries swirling around the group, called the Independent Virginians for Responsible Government. (IVRG), the Fairfax County Fair Campaign Practices Commission ruled unanimously that a letter mailed by IVRG over the signature of Rep J. Kenneth Robinson (R-Va.) violates the commission's code of campaign ethics. The bipartisan commission has no legal power to enforce its rulings.
THe commission, however, voted 4 to 3 to dismiss a complaint that Howells opponent, Republican John N. Dalton, had not adequately repudiated the Robinson letter. Later, the Fairfax County Republican chairman announced that members of his party would no longer participate in the Fair Campaign Practices Commission.
Meanwhile, Dalton again disclaimed any knowledge of the television campaign and said "it concerns everybody that one of these committees will put something on the air that will do you some damage."
At the same time another conservative backed group Americans Against Union Control of Govrnment, also has been turned down by at least one local televesion station. WTOP in its bid to air anti-Howell commercials.
These commercials are scheduled to be seen on WRC-TV and WJLA-TV here.
Chuck McKeever, assistant general manager of station WDBJ in Roanoke, said his station decided not to air the IVRG's commercials because there was at least one "misrepresentation" and because the station would be liable for making time available to other independent groups to respond to the commercials.
As he described it, the issue posed many problems. "In the first place the request for time came in as representing Dalton's campaign." Mc- Keever said, "Once we saw the creative (the commercials) we realized that it was not as contracted...We are not required to furnish time to independent groups, and if we do, either Howell or Dalton support groups could request equal time."
He said one commercial took a quote from President Carter calling Howell "indiscret" out of context, picturing it is an attack when it was really a compliment. Carter, on his recent visit to Virginia to campaign for Howell, said he "sometimes is indiscreet" because he takes on controvesial issues.
John T. Dolan, who directs IVRG as well as the National Conservative Political Action Committee, said yesterday that the commercials have been or are in the process of being revised and that he was confident that McKeever would find the revisions acceptable. He will show station managers documentation for the charges made in the ads, he said, to persuade them to air the spots.
Another organizer, David Keene, said that McKeever may have thought the group represented itself as a Dalton-sponsored committee because the advertising agency that was purchasing the time was asked, according to Federal Communications Commission procedure, to fill out a form that asked "in support of whom" the commercials were to be shown. "She had no choice but to say Dalton," Keene explained, "But she explained at the time that we were not a Dalton group."
Dolan said that at least one Richmond station, WXEX, had agreed to air the spots, and he had not heard from another Richmond station WTVR.
Howver, WTVR general manager Jack Mahoney said yesterday the station had decided not to run IVRG's ads. "We have been put on notice that they could contain inaccurate statements," Mahoney said."Our lawyers have advised us not to accept them." He said he did not know if the station would reconsider the commercials if they were revised.
Another Roanoke station, WSLS, also has refused to run the ads, and a spokesman for the other Richmond station, WWBT, said his station also would have turned them down because "attorneys said they could be misleading, deceptive, or possible untrue.
Dolan said "we stand by our statements 100 per cent." The IVRG agreed last week to drop the issue of busing from its advertising campaign because ther was so much confusion over what Howell actually had said on the issue.
Dalton has written television stations telling them his (campaign is not affiliated with the IVRG effort and that the commercials contain inaccuracies.
The Americans Against Union Control of Government plans to spending more than $5,000 on its ads, according to treasurer Roman K. Rice III. The group previously donated $5,000 to Dalton's campaign. It's commercials also are intended to focus on Howell's record on collective bargaining.
Yesterday in Richmond 24 of the state's 34 Democratic state senators released a statement attacking the IVRG and "other so-called independent groups" for circulating "shameful lies" about Howell Represented by Majority Leader Adelard L. Brault, the group recalled that the "same sinister forces banded together" five years ago to defeat U.S. Sen. William B. Spong's re-election bid with at last minute media blitz.
Brault said the mass media approach was "the same technique used by the propaganda forces of Hitler during his rique used by the propaganda forces of Hitler during his regima.