(CNSNews.com) - The manager of the senior citizens center where presidential candidates John McCain and Bill Bradley called for campaign finance reform December 16 said the event was sponsored by ABC News and not the candidates.
The controversial meeting between McCain and Bradley has come under scrutiny because no other candidates were involved and because ABC News had exclusive broadcast rights to the event, which the network described as a town meeting "moderated" by ABC Nightline program host Ted Koppel.
But Sandy Osgood, who manages the Earl Bourdon Senior Center in Claremont, New Hampshire, the site of the meeting, said the network did more than simply moderate the discussion between McCain and Bradley. "ABC sponsored the event," Osgood told CNSNews.com.
When pressed for details, Osgood declined to answer, saying she was "heading out the door" for the weekend.
ABC News spokeswoman Eileen Murphy denied that the network had sponsored any part of the McCain-Bradley event and said she believes Osgood "is mistaken" in saying ABC did so. "Perhaps this woman doesn't understand what 'sponsored' means," Murphy told CNSNews.com. "No event was sponsored by ABC. It was an ABC program."
When asked if ABC had invited any other presidential candidates to participate in the program, Murphy said she was not certain. But officials with the campaigns of two of McCain's rivals for the Republican presidential nomination - publisher Steve Forbes and Texas Governor George Bush - said they were not invited to attend.
The questions swirling around the McCain-Bradley meeting already have prompted lawyers for the Forbes campaign to explore whether they will seek equal time on ABC.
"We're taking a hard look at it right now," said Forbes' Senior Political Advisor Paul Young. According to Young, campaign officials were busy "trading phone calls," with campaign lawyers Friday, trying to ascertain whether Forbes or any other presidential candidate had grounds to seek equal time on ABC.
Broadcasters are not required by the Federal Communications Commission to provide equal time for political candidates in news coverage, but lawyers for Forbes are examining the question of whether ABC's exclusion of other presidential candidates constitutes a de facto political endorsement of McCain and Bradley's candidacy.
"There is a provision in FCC regulations about political editorials in which a station opposes or endorses another candidate while broadcasting it's own opinion," said Cleta Mitchell, a partner in the Washington, DC law firm of Sullivan and Mitchell, which serves as Forbes' campaign counsel.
"Since (ABC) didn't have other opinions represented, its hard to image how they could get away with saying they weren't broadcasting their own opinion," said Mitchell.
"Because the use of the airwaves to express one opinion on an issue is tantamount to an endorsement of two candidates for office when there are other legally qualified candidates for the office, they ought to be entitled to a reasonable opportunity to respond on the air," said Mitchell.