Sean Hannity used his Fox News program to promote the fundraising efforts of a paid sponsor of his radio show. Hannity read an advertisement for the Tea Party Patriots (TPP) on his September 8 radio show, and then hosted the group's president on Fox the following day to plug their fundraising website.
At no point during the Fox segment was it disclosed that Hannity and TPP are financial partners.
Fox News previously responded to criticism over ethical issues related to Hannity's relationship with TPP, which has included fundraising emails and live read radio advertisements, by claiming the network is not connected to the sponsorship. TVNewser wrote in February that "Fox News tells us Hannity's involvement with the Tea Party group is for his radio show, and has nothing to do with his FNC show or role with the network."
But as The Washington Post's Erik Wemple noted, Fox's explanation is "a brilliant and meaningless distinction. So Hannity's radio show will have a financial connection to and a rooting interest in the Tea Party Patriots, but presumably 'Hannity' on Fox News will not. When the star commentator moves from radio mic to television camera, his institutional ties to the Tea Party Patriots will go poof in a cloud of media-platform dust."
Fox's ethical problems with Hannity got even worse last night when he helped his radio partner promote their immigration fundraising efforts on Fox just one day after doing an advertisement for them.
During his September 8 Premiere Radio Networks program, Hannity gave an "important update" from "our friends" at Tea Party Patriots. He told listeners that "we need you to sign the emergency petition. It's on the special website endthebordercrisis.com." He also urged his listeners to call the Tea Party Patriots' toll free number because "everything's on the line here":
HANNITY: I have an important update on the illegal immigration crisis. The Tea Party Patriots, our friends now, they're leading the fight to stop Obama's lawless abuse of power. Now you may have heard, now the president's getting ready to use executive orders to grant amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants by bypassing Congress after the election. Now we need you to sign the emergency petition -- it's on the special website endthebordercrisis.com -- and demand that Barack Obama stop amnesty, secure our borders. These terrorists are using it to cross over. You can call the Tea Party Patriots, they'll add your name to the petition. You don't have to do anything, but call toll free. It's 800-933-1518. 800-933-1518. And the Tea Party Patriots need us to keep the pressure on the president and Harry Reid and the Democrats in Congress because it's a crisis like none other we've ever faced. You know, national security, the rule of law, safety of innocent kids, everything's on the line here. So go to endthebordercrisis.com right now or call 800-933-1518. 800-933-1518.
The website endthebordercrisis.com is a branded TPP website featuring Hannity's endorsement. Signing the petition brings users to a donation page telling readers that "petitions alone won't stop the politicians ... So please, make the very best contribution to Tea Party Patriots that you possibly can."
Politico reported earlier this year on how conservative organizations are using talk radio hosts like Hannity as "a fundraising gold mine" by paying them to read advertisements on their shows that "usually steer listeners to its website and encourage donations, as well as ads for the sponsoring groups on the hosts' websites, and sometimes a certain number of signed fundraising emails and appearances."
On September 9, Hannity hosted Jenny Beth Martin on his Fox News program Hannity in a panel segment tailor-made to help her promote the group's fundraising petition. The TPP tweeted before the appearance, "Tune your TV to @FoxNews & watch @jennybethm discuss Obama's failures w/ @seanhannity! Then sign our petition at http://DemandSecureBorders.com!"
During the panel discussion, Hannity teed Martin up to discuss immigration by saying a poll found "31 percent approval rating for the president's handling on immigration, which, Jenny Beth Martin, I know is important to you." Martin responded that it's "a devastating poll" and "we know that across the country Americans do not want to have amnesty happen." Martin later made her sales pitch, stating: "We want the president to be stronger abroad and we want to make sure he's smart at home. And we've got a petition people can sign at DemandSecureBorders.com."
DemandSecureBorders.com brings readers to a petition page that asks for email addresses. Signing the petition brings users to a donation page. From the Fox News segment:
HANNITY: All right, we've got Washington Post/ABC News poll, majority of Americans think that the Obama presidency is in fact a failure. Look at that, 10 point margin. 91 percent see that we have vital interests at stake with ISIS, 71 percent want air strikes. 31 percent approval rating for the president's handling on immigration, which, Jenny Beth Martin, I know is important to you. And 17 point margin: Obama has done more to divide the nation than unite it. This is a devastating poll 56 days out of an election.
MARTIN: It is a devastating poll. Shocking that so many people still think he's doing a good job. That's kind of the surprising thing about the poll. We know that across the country Americans do not want to have amnesty happen. The president has threatened to do this. Now he's thinking that we're going to -- he can pull one over on us and wait until after the election so it's not going to happen.
HANNITY: We're pretty dumb if -- you know, people -- I'm just going to put it off till after the election just to protect every Democrat. But he's going to do it the day after.
MARTIN: And he knows -- they know, and the polls show Americans do not want this to happen.
HANNITY: The biggest national security mistake we're making right now is not securing our border. Right now secure the border because ISIS is in here and they're coming in at this moment.
MARTIN: And Americans are concerned about this. And we have got to secure the border. We want the president to be stronger abroad and we want to make sure he's smart at home.
HANNITY: Don't hold your breath.
MARTIN: And we've got a petition people can sign at DemandSecureBorders.com.
During the segment, Hannity simply identified Martin as "from the Tea Party Patriots." When Martin promoted DemandSecureBorders.com, Hannity again didn't mention his financial connection. Hannity had previously acknowledged on Fox that TPP "are partners on my radio show."
The Washington Post reported in April that the Tea Party Patriots is one of several conservative groups that spent "just a tiny fraction of their money directly into boosting" candidates, instead devoting most of their money to fundraising and consultants. Martin is "on track to make more than $450,000 this year." While he is complaining about President Obama's "amnesty" plan, Hannity claimed after the 2012 elections to have "evolved" on immigration and endorsed a pathway to citizenship.
Hannity has repeatedly made a mockery of ethics standards. Fox News previously forced Hannity to cancel a planned taping of his 2010 Fox News show at a Cincinnati Tea Party event because the event charged admission and had "all proceeds" benefiting the organization. At the time Fox portrayed themselves to media as "furious" with Hannity, though the episode didn't appear to "have resulted in any serious disciplinary measures" from the notoriously lax network.