The world's largest cable-television company is refusing to broadcast ads soliciting information targeting the LDS Church's tax-exempt status because the activist behind the spots cannot provide documentation of the faith's financial holdings.
Comcast was supposed to begin airing the ads for MormonTips.com on Wednesday in the Salt Lake City media market, said Fred Karger. A few hours after a Tuesday news conference promoting the ads, Karger said, he received word from Comcast that it would not televise the spots.
"Our freedom of speech is denied, and that's never happened to me before," said Karger, a gay-rights advocate and former Republican presidential candidate who has worked in and bought advertisements for GOP politics for decades.
Tara Hunter, a spokeswoman for Comcast Spotlight, the cable outlet's advertising division, issued a written statement Thursday that explained why the company declined the ad.
"Upon review, the ad did not comply with our guidelines because the client was unwilling to provide substantiation for their claims and we do not accept ads that demean individuals or specific organizations," the statement said. "We offered to review any additional spots the client was interested in airing."
Hunter didn't immediately clarify what Comcast found unsubstantiated.
However, Tim Kay, director of political strategy at NCC Media, which sells airtime to clients on behalf of the cable industry, said Comcast wanted the same thing Karger does — documentation about how much money the church has.
Comcast was concerned with four assertions about the Utah-based faith's finances made during the 30-second spot.
Appearing in the ad, Karger insists The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has more than $1 trillion in business holdings and that it brings in between $8 billion and $20 billion a year from its members. Kay said Comcast also was concerned about text in the ad reading "CITY CREEK MALL $2 BILLION CASH" and "THEME PARK IN HAWAII."
City Creek Center in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City cost an estimated $2 billion to build for one of the church's taxable business entities. The Hawaiian theme park refers to the Polynesian Cultural Center.
"Fred said he either didn't have the information" substantiating the finances, Kay said, "or wasn't interested in providing it, and at that point was told the ad would not run without providing it. And that's where the conversation ended."
During a one-minute version of the ad available on YouTube, Karger asserts the church has "rampant sexual abuse in its ranks." Kay said Thursday that allegation was not made in the 30-second spot.
Karger acknowledged at his Tuesday news conference he had no scholarly reference for the sexual-abuse assertions, but said he has heard stories from "dozens" of former Mormons who allege they were molested or assaulted by perpetrators associated with the church.
Karger said Thursday he has emails showing Comcast approved the ads a week earlier after meeting one requirement — MormonTips.com had to turn up the volume on the spots.
Kay said Comcast didn't review the spots until Tuesday or Wednesday.
Karger acknowledged Thursday that the $1 trillion in holdings is an estimate, but that the other financial assertions are part of the public record. He said the church has even referred on its website to the Polynesian Cultural Center as a theme park.
He declined to provide those citations to Comcast this week, he said, because the company had already approved the ad.
"I didn't even want to dignify that [request]," Karger said. "... The church has applied this pressure; there's no doubt in my mind."
The LDS Church declined to comment on Karger's effort.
Comcast represented 90 percent of MormonTips.com's media purchase, Karger said, and was supposed to broadcast the spots across multiple cable and broadcast channels, including LDS Church-owned KSL.
Kay said the remaining percentage went to advertising on a different cable company covering the Provo area. Kay said Thursday that, to his knowledge, the ads were airing there.
The ad, titled "Help Us," asks people to share any information or documents that can be used in a complaint to the IRS and provides an email address and phone number — email@example.com and 385-236-3131.
Karger said he probably wouldn't sue Comcast, but late Wednesday he sent a letter to company leaders complaining about its position.