By Jerry Cornfield Herald Writer
Community Transit has rejected thousands of dollars in bus advertising from a statewide gun control group citing a new policy banning ads on controversial religious, social and political issues.
Washington CeaseFire sought to put up the same ads it ran on Community Transit buses a year ago but learned their content now runs afoul of a provision in the two-week-old policy barring political advertisements.
“It’s disappointing. We’re just trying to educate people,” said Ralph Fascitelli, the group’s president.
Washington CeaseFire is the first organization to have its ads rejected under the policy approved May 2. But it was not the target, transit district leaders said.
Board members had been working for months crafting rules to prohibit ads that could generate controversy and offend bus riders or create a perception the district was pushing a position on an issue.
“At the end of the day we are a transit agency and doing that means we do not want to become caught in the middle of debates on controversial issues,” said Mukilteo Mayor Joe Marine, president of the Community Transit Board of Directors.
Fascitelli would not say exactly how much the group desired to spend but said it was in the range of “five figures.”
Marine said the potential of losing money as a result of the policy did not factor into the board’s decision-making.
Advertising accounts for less than 1 percent of Community Transit’s annual revenues, according to district officials. In 2012, it took in roughly $550,000 in ad revenue out of a $96 million budget, they said.
Marine said he’d rather not run any ads on buses to avert skirmishes with groups like CeaseFire or the public.
“We don’t want to start alienating people because they think we’re taking a stand,” he said.
CeaseFire wanted to run two ads throughout May as part of its “Know The Facts” public education campaign. They focus on the increased danger of having guns in homes.
Both ads contain the headline: “Think twice about having a gun in your home.” One goes on to say, “It could mean the difference between a mere argument or a funeral” while the other reads “There is a 5x greater chance of suicide.” Both also list the organization’s website.
The new policy bans advertisements containing “political speech referring to a particular ballot question, initiative, petition, referendum, law, candidate, political party or social issue or expresses or advocates opinions or positions upon any of the foregoing.”
It also bars inclusion of website addresses or telephone numbers directing people to materials banned by the policy.
“I think the ads are pretty innocuous,” Fascitelli said. “We try to make this nonpolitical. Like the campaign slogan says, ‘Know the Facts.’”
The ads are running on King County Metro buses, he said. But Pierce Transit in Pierce County, like Community Transit, turned down the ads.
Fueling Fascitelli’s frustration with the Community Transit is that the group made its ad request April 22, two weeks before the board approved its new policy.
“Why were the ads not grandfathered in?” he said. “Somebody went out of their way to make life difficult for them.”
District directors had scheduled a vote for May 2 before CeaseFire’s request arrived, according to spokesman Martin Munguia.
So a couple of days before the vote, the district sent a rejection letter to the group with an explanation.
“Under the new policy, the CeaseFire campaign will not be allowed. Rather than accept and have to rescind it the same day we are declining to accept it at this time,” according to the letter.
“We did not change our policy for them,” Marine said. “This is exactly the kind of stuff we are trying to avoid.”
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org.
What it says
Community Transit rejected ads from Washington CeaseFire because the content did not comply with its new advertising policy. Here is the provision applied in turning down the ads:
Political Advertisements. Political advertisements are defined as advertisements that contain political speech referring to a particular ballot question, initiative, petition, referendum, law, candidate, political party or social issue or expresses or advocates opinions or positions upon any of the foregoing. This prohibition includes any advertisement referring to or depicting a candidate for public office in any context.