The owner of a New Hampshire news site covering the Senate race there has resigned to spearhead a pro-Scott Brown super-PAC that launched late last month.
The Journal report on Hynes' departure from the publication, more than a month after it happened, followed multiple inquiries from The Hill on Friday afternoon to Hynes and his associates about the connection, none of which were answered.
Hynes was listed on Federal Election Commission documents as the treasurer for the super-PAC when it filed its statement of organization with the FEC on April 28, and on Friday he told the New Hampshire Journal that he relinquished his ownership of the Journal at that time.
The severing of the link with the news site allows Hynes and the Journal to dodge what could've been allegations of violations of federal campaign law, if he stayed on with the publication.
Election experts told The Hill Friday afternoon, before the Journal reported the news of Hynes' resignation, that his work with the PAC would have opened up the publication to, at best, questions about its legitimacy as an independent news organization and at worst would have muddied the waters in terms of campaign finance law.
Kenneth Gross, an election law expert and attorney, said that Hynes' involvement in both the super-PAC and the publication raised the question of whether the New Hampshire Journal should be afforded a media exemption from filing with the FEC documentation of any expenditures that might benefit a candidate in the race, such as an editorial board endorsement.
“It all comes down to…whether [Hynes and his publication are] able to legitimately stay within the purview of a media or press exemption, while at the same time he’s running an active political committee,” he said. “There’s no provision in the law that specifically prohibits that, but it’s a factor that might be taken into consideration in trying to determine whether the press exemption is being abused in some factor.”
Independent news organizations are allowed that exemption. But Gross said the formation of Hynes’ group would have muddied the waters on the Journal’s role.
“It certainly raises some questions. Whether [Democrats] could substantiate a case is something else, and it’s a murky area,” he said.
Kathy Kiely, managing editor for the campaign finance watchdog group the Sunlight Foundation, echoed his concerns.
“This seems to me to be a very gray area. What is the difference between, and how do you make a distinction between, what the guy is doing with one hand as the publisher of a website and the other hand as an advocate for the candidate?” she asked.
The site has faced skepticism over its independence within New Hampshire circles since its launch, as Hynes owns it along with a handful of other New Hampshire GOP strategists, including former NHGOP Executive Director Paul Young and two strategists previously engaged with the presidential campaigns of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R).
It raised eyebrows earlier this year when it hired John DiStaso, one of the state’s most established and well-respected journalists, away from the Union-Leader in an apparent bid to transform the fledgling publication into a major player in the state's media ecosystem. DiStaso did not respond to a request for comment from The Hill made prior to his report that Hynes was stepping down.
DiStaso and Hynes had in the past addressed concerns over the prospect of the GOP-run business end of the site bleeding into the editorial content, insisting it would never happen.
“I’ve brought unbiased reporting to political reporting at the Union-Leader and it certainly is going to be the same here,” DiStaso told Politico shortly after his move, referencing the rightward slant of the Union-Leader’s editorial board.
“I wouldn’t write for a site that slanted. I realize that there may be challenges to overcome in terms of convincing on both sides of the aisle that that is the case, but I do have editorial control of the site.”
No New Hampshire political observers have accused DiStaso of bias since he started with the Journal, or Hynes of meddling in the publication’s editorial vision. And Hynes' decision to sever ties with the Journal will further mitigate any such concerns, though the rest of his fellow board members remain involved in the ownership of the publication.