The vice president and director of Sinclair Broadcasting Group, which has often been criticized for its conservative slant, donated to Rep. Greg Gianforte’s campaign the day after the Montana Republican was charged with assaulting a reporter.
The donation of $1,000 by Frederick G. Smith, a member of the family that owns the company, came on May 25, the day Gianforte was elected, according to Federal Election Commission reports. Smith also gave $1,000 to Gianforte’s campaign in March.
On May 24, Gianforte assaulted Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs as Jacobs attempted to ask Gianforte a question about the healthcare bill, breaking Jacobs’ glasses and sending him to the hospital for X-rays. Though Gianforte’s campaign initially decried Jacobs as a "liberal" reporter and placed some of the blame on him, Gianforte eventually apologized, pleaded guilty to the assault, and donated $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists as part of an agreement under which Jacobs did not pursue a civil case. Gianforte was sentenced to community service and anger management classes, while being assessed a $385 fine.
Gianforte’s campaign received a flood of new donations the day after the incident, raising about $118,000 on May 25, more than double the amount he raised the day before.
Smith was not available for comment, but a Sinclair spokesperson said, “Campaign contributions made by our board members are personal to them and do not reflect company policy or support.”
Sinclair Broadcasting Group recently struck a $3.9 billion deal to obtain Tribune Media’s dozens of television stations, making Sinclair the largest owner of television stations in the country. For years, Sinclair has been pegged by critics as a company with conservative leanings. The Smith family has long been supporters of conservative causes, and the network has been known to send "must run" packages to its local affiliates, segments that sometimes come with a conservative political bent. Sinclair also recently hired Boris Epshteyn, formerly the White House director of surrogate operations, to be its chief political analyst.
POLITICO in December reported that Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, told business executives the campaign had struck a deal with Sinclair for better media coverage. Sinclair disputed the characterization, saying it was an arrangement for extended sit-down interviews that was offered to both candidates, though Clinton never sat down with the network.