Sticking with the issues
In 2005, the Pittsburgh Catholic made the decision to no longer accept political advertising. This includes advertising directly from candidates for office, ads by political-action committees and direct endorsements from advocacy groups. It also includes what might be called "implied endorsement" advertisements that, essentially from their tone and message, imply -- if not directly state -- an endorsement of a candidate.
Simply put, a Catholic publication has little wiggle room once it has decided to accept political advertising. There are Internal Revenue Service-enforced governmental regulations for non-profit entities that accept advertising for political candidates. The bottom line in these regulations is that, while the Pittsburgh Catholic could not be forced to publish an advertisement that directly attacked church teaching, it could definitely be forced to take an advertisement from a candidate who advocated such a contrary position.
For example, if a candidate espoused racist views but those views were not contained in his or her political advertisement, the Pittsburgh Catholic could not reject that advertising if it accepted advertising from the opposing candidate. The same would apply to a candidate supporting unrestricted legalized abortion. If we did reject such an ad, that action would be viewed as in violation of IRS regulations. Thus, the Pittsburgh Catholic could easily face either defying IRS regulations, or committing the seemingly old-fashioned but ever-relevant perception of scandal by allowing a Catholic publication to be used as a vehicle in support of public positions directly contrary to the church.
The Pittsburgh Catholic, therefore, made the decision seven years ago to stop accepting political advertising. Because of the nature of IRS regulations, such a policy has to be all-encompassing and without bias. This means that this newspaper does not accept or run advertising for any political candidates, direct or implied, during campaign seasons. While we debate the issues on our editorial pages and in our news coverage and analysis during any political campaign, we don't accept outside advertising for or against a specific candidate, nor any such advertising that implies support or opposition to a specific candidate.
There is one exception to this policy. As long as the advertisement has nothing to do with endorsing specific elected candidates, government guidelines are greatly relaxed. Particularly during non-campaign years when there is no danger of implied endorsement, non-profit entities such as the Pittsburgh Catholic are allowed to accept at will and under their own judgment advertisements concerning legislative action, non-elected appointments or recruitment for advocacy groups. This paper will continue to accept such advertisements since each could be judged according to the standards of the newspaper.
For example, advertisements asking public support for legislation bearing on public funding assistance for Catholic school students do not fall under IRS guidelines. Accepting advertising supporting pending pro-life legislation does not require that the Pittsburgh Catholic run advertising opposed to such legislation. Accepting an advertisement recruiting membership or financial support for a right-to-life organization does not require the newspaper to accept similar advertising from Planned Parenthood.
During elections for president and other statewide races, the Pittsburgh Catholic has traditionally published a voter's guide based on questionnaires on the issues mailed to every candidate. A requirement of faithful citizenship is that voters inform themselves of the issues, the stand of candidates and parties on those issues, and to see, judge and act based on the principles of the faith applied to current concerns. Seeing our world through the eyes of faith is central to an informed Catholic citizenry.
A voter's guide is set to appear on our website (www.pittsburghcatholic.org) Oct. 26 to help inform our readers. Those without Internet access will be mailed a printed copy when they call our office (412-471-1252, ext. 3570).
Without political advertising, the Pittsburgh Catholic has the freedom to address the issues of the day and present the positions of the candidates free from outside regulatory mandates. It can be a discussion based on ideas and issues, not candidates; and can then be framed from the perspective of 2,000 years of church teaching, while leaving it to the good judgment of the readers to determine how that might apply when they enter the voting booth.