A Washington State public official has proposed fining a local newspaper for producing litter. The paper, The Columbian, of Vancouver, has published numerous articles critical of State Sen. Don Benton. In his other role as Clark County’s director of environmental services, Benton has asked county officials to fine the paper for littering, according to Fox News.
Although it is not unusual for state lawmakers to serve in other positions in the state, The Columbian challenged Benton’s appointment, arguing that he did not seem to have “the minimum requirements” for the job. Among other things, The Columbian alleged that the vacancy for the position Benton filled was never posted in accordance with county policy. One county commissioner denounced the appointment as “political cronyism.”
Now in his new role, Benton, a Republican, has proposed a $150,000-per-year fine to be charged to the paper for being “one of the top polluters in the county.” The fine is among a number of options proposed to county commissioners to help the county pay a $3.6-million settlement for violating the Clean Water Act.
Benton proposed that the fine be applied at a rate of 1.5 cents per paper distributed and only apply to newspapers with circulation of over 50,000. The Columbian is the only paper that falls within those criteria.
The paper’s editor, Lou Brancaccio, told Fox News that the proposal is “silly on its face and in our view, retaliatory."
Benton claimed he is simply doing his job.
"I wouldn’t be doing my job if I let one of the biggest polluters in the county off the hook,” he said.
According to The Oregonian, Benton has gone so far as to claim that The Columbian is one of the top five polluters in the county. That claim has been disputed.
Benton called the paper’s accusation that the fine was retaliatory “absolutely ludicrous.”
"Typical Columbian [is] rying to make a sensational story out of something that is pretty routine, quite frankly,” he said.
Ken Goldberg, who works as legal counsel for the American Society of News Editors, told Fox News the proposal was unlikely to hold up in court.
Vancouver’s city attorney, Ted Gathe, also questioned whether a county could impose a fine on a business operating within a city.
“This would raise serious First Amendment questions,” Goldberg said.