An owner of the controversial Sinclair Broadcast Group has donated more than $10,000 to Montana Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte in the last year and a half.
Robert E. Smith, whose family owns the largest local television station operator in the country, gave the maximum $5,400 to Gianforte’s campaign in March, The Guardian reported. He did the same last year, ahead of Gianforte’s 6-point special election victory over Democrat Rob Quist.
The night before the special election, Gianforte attacked Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs. He later pleaded guilty to assault charges and was sentenced to community service and anger management classes.
Gianforte is not the only Republican to benefit from Smith’s wealth.
The television mogul donated the maximum $10,000 to the Montana Republican Party during Gianforte’s campaign in 2017. He also has forked over $5,000 to President Donald Trump’s campaign.
Smith’s affiliation with Sinclair is not noted on any of his Federal Elections Commission filings. When he donated to Gianforte in 2017, he said he was retired. In March, he said he was self-employed and worked in real estate. For his donations to Trump, he listed himself as a self-employed musician and as a director.
Individual campaign contributors like Smith are allowed to give $2,700 to a candidate's primary campaign and an additional $2,700 to their general election campaign, per election laws. Individual donations to state parties are limited to $10,000 per year.
Smith owns 19 percent of Sinclair and has been its director since 1986, The Guardian reported.
Frederick Smith, his brother, donated $1,000 to Gianforte’s campaign the day after the congressman assaulted the reporter.
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Lawmakers and pundits have scrutinized Sinclair for buying up dozens of local news stations across America and compelling their reporters and producers to run clips and segments that lean toward a conservative political orientation.
Last week, 11 Democratic senators and independent Sen. Bernie Sanderswrote a letter to the Federal Communications Commission that highlighted Sinclair’s recent move to force its anchors in dozens of U.S. cities to read a scripted, uniform segment blasting “fake news” and media bias that favors liberals.
The senators asked FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to review the television conglomerate’s license and temporarily block its merger with Tribune Media.
Pai rejected their request, saying he could not think of such an action “more chilling of free speech than the federal government investigating a broadcast station because of disagreement with its news coverage.”