(WBNG Binghamton) Congressman Richard Hanna (R- 22nd District) threatened to pull his advertising dollars and hinder future cooperation with an upstate New York television station if a debate in which he declined to participate wasn't canceled, according to a series of internal email obtained by Action News.
The email, dated the morning of Oct. 3 sent by WUTR-TV News Director Steve Merren, was obtained by Hanna's opponent Democrat Dan Lamb.
It was sent to Action News by Lamb's campaign on Thursday. It provides reasons to the station's parent company, Nexstar Broadcasting, and reporters why a previously scheduled debate between Hanna and Lamb would be canceled.
"I got an angry call from Richard Hanna yesterday saying that Dan Lamb has intentionally baited him in his press release and that he will not agree to meet with us under this type of setup," Merren writes. "He (Hanna) went on to tell me that we were being played by Lamb and the results would not be favorable for his continued abiltiy (sic) to deal with our news organizations."
As of Friday afternoon, Merren had not returned phone calls and emails seeking comment. He told other members of the upstate media he and Nexstar would decline comment to let the story run itself out.
Hanna's threat to cull future interaction with a member of the media in his coverage area has drawn the ire of constituents, the media and his opponent this November.
"This isn't a guessing game," Lamb said. "We're not wondering if he did this. He did it. He got the result. I'm supposed to be in Syracuse right now taping a debate. That debate was canceled because he threatened the station and they caved in. He got what he wanted and the people got nothing."
Lamb called Hanna's move the moral equivalent of bribing a cop.
"It was a very heavy-handed thing for Mr. Hanna to do to threaten to pull his advertising from a station if they don't do what he wants," Lamb added. "And it confirms the worst suspicions of what is happening with elections today, that the fix is in. That a wealthy multimillionaire can dictate the coverage that his election has, and therefore get the results that he wants on election day."
A Hanna spokeswoman said the conversation with the Utica station included no discussion of campaign ads.
"It was just a courtesy call," said spokeswoman Renee Gamela. "That was it."
Another Hanna spokesman, Justin Stokes said Hanna will be participating in six candidate forums throughout the 22nd Congressional District.
The campaign has two upcoming candidate events in the Binghamton area. Both are open to the general public and the media, although neither are televised.
Hanna declined an invitation in September for a debate in the Binghamton area co-hosted by WBNG and WSKG.
Hanna also declined another debate invitation Thursday from just WBNG.
There is no scheduled, televised debate between the two candidates in the Binghamton area.
However, Lamb has accepted the offer and WBNG will move forward regardless of an opponent's decision to participate.
Hanna and Lamb are running for the 22nd district congressional seat, a new district that stretches from Binghamton north to the Oswego area.
Hanna is a congressman from the northern reaches of the district that was carved up due to redistricting.
Lamb worked for congressman Maurice Hinchey who is retiring, and whose district was eliminated in the redistricting.