GOP Billboard Nixed in Nashville

July 7, 2008 - 8:25 PM

1st write-thru. Includes FEC data, Nicholson quotes

(CNSNews.com) - A Nashville billboard company is refusing to honor a contract with the Republican National Committee to let the GOP advertise a few hundred yards from Vice President Al Gore's campaign headquarters.

Mark Peterson, the sales manager of Outdoor System's Nashville office, told CNSNews.com that the last minute decision to cancel the contract was made by "upper management," who rejected the billboard because "we're not going to be a vehicle for negative advertising."

The billboard was to have shown a photograph of Gore hugging President Bill Clinton, alongside Gore's December, 1998 quote referring to Clinton as "one of our greatest presidents."

Officials with the billboard company's corporate offices in Phoenix were not immediately available for comment and the reason for the contract cancellation is unclear. But an official with the RNC told CNSNews.com that Outdoor Systems Salesman Mark Sword left a voice mail message received Tuesday morning saying that selling the GOP the billboard space would "not be a good move for us from a corporate standpoint."

Outdoor Systems told CNSNews.com that broadcasting giant CBS was in the process of buying the company, although company officials could not confirm a timeline for the transaction.

Also uncertain is whether Outdoor Systems Chairman William S. Levine played a role in the decision. Federal Election Commission records show that Levine has made the maximum contribution to Gore's primary campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

FEC records also show that Levine has contributed to Texas Governor George W. Bush's presidential campaign, along with other Republicans and Democrats, including Sen. Paul Coverdell (R-GA), Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Sen. Christopher Bond (R-MO) and Sen. John Breaux (D-LA) among others.

While Levine's political giving is bi-partisan, the company apparently doesn't view the GOP's billboard in the same light. "We have contacted the Republicans and let them know our upper management has rejected that copy. It is not in the spirit of good advertising," Peterson told CNSNews.com.

The billboard includes only a photograph and a quote from Gore, both of which are accurate, and Peterson could not say what about the advertisement was negative or not in the spirit of good advertising.

An RNC news release said the billboard was to have been "approximately 500 feet from Gore's campaign headquarters."

The quote from Gore referring to Clinton as "one of our greatest presidents," was made on December 19, 1998, the day Clinton was impeached on two articles by the House of Representatives.

RNC Chairman Jim Nicholson said he was "puzzled" by the decision to cancel the billboard contract, and asked in a letter to Sword, "how could that image and that message possibly be seen... as something so 'negative' or 'anti-Democrat' that it deserves to be censored?"

Nicholson was to unveil the billboard during a November 30 news conference in Nashville and asked that Outdoor Systems "reconsider your decision," to cancel the contract.

-more to follow-