- The Washington Times - Monday, August 7, 2017

It was always a head-scratcher: Why would TD Ameritrade, a company founded by prominent Republican donor Joe Ricketts, throw in with George Soros-backed forces intent on driving “Hannity” off the air?

Now TD Ameritrade has an explanation: It never happened, despite the left’s claims to the contrary.

The discount brokerage firm’s ads are no longer running on the Fox News show hosted by conservative pundit Sean Hannity, but TD Ameritrade spokeswoman Kim Hillyer told The Washington Times it had nothing to do with any boycott.

She said that last year’s media buy expired at roughly the same time that the anti-Hannity campaign launched by the Soros-backed Media Matters for America erupted in late May.

TD Ameritrade did not drop or stop advertising on Sean Hannity’s program,” Ms. Hillyer said in an email. “We have not been approached by the coalition, or any other group regarding our advertising policies, nor have we joined any boycotts related to the program.”

In May, however, Media Matters added TD Ameritrade to its rundown of advertisers that no longer sponsor “Hannity,” while the Democratic Coalition Against Trump has listed the company since June as one of the companies that has “pulled their ads from Hannity’s show thanks to your efforts.”

The idea has been to force the top-rated Fox News host off the air by depleting his ad revenue, although so far only about a dozen of the 150 companies identified as “Hannity” sponsors have agreed to pull their ads, based on the listings.

Ms. Hillyer said she hoped to “clarify misinformation” about TD Ameritrade’s situation.

“We had a media buy with the program that we purchased a year ago (we do the vast majority of our media buying once a year),” Ms. Hillyer said. “All ads associated with that buy ran as scheduled, and the conclusion of the buy just happened to coincide with the launch of the current controversy. That’s not something you can predict when you buy time months in advance.”

She added that, “We don’t have any other ads scheduled to run at this time, and planning for 2018 is currently underway, so I don’t have any updates as to what we’ll do regarding that specific program in the future.”

Democratic Coalition executive director Nate Lerner responded by saying the group would remove TD Ameritrade from the list of firms on its Fire Hannity website identified as those boycotting the show.

“We do our best to keep it as accurate as possible, but it’s not always clear if a company stopped advertising due to the boycott efforts or simply because their ad buy ended,” said Mr. Lerner in an email.

Media Matters President Angelo Carusone wasn’t so sure. He said he wanted to check to see if the TD Ameritrade ads disappeared from “Hannity” before other Fox News programs.

“One part that we can validate is they are not a current advertiser of Sean Hannity,” said Mr. Carusone. “And the fact that they have no plans and didn’t indicate that they purchased during [upfront ad sales] any of their 2018 ads is also revealing, just from a business perspective.”

Shortly thereafter, Media Matters updated its list of “Hannity” advertisers. The listing no longer includes TD Ameritrade or other companies identified as those that have stopped running ads.

Media Matters touched off the anti-Hannity blitz with a May 23 post headlined, “These are Sean Hannity’s advertisers,” describing the host as a “professional propagandist for President Donald Trump.”

Several companies, including Cars.com, USAA and Ring, reacted by saying they would pull their “Hannity” sponsorships, although USAA later reversed its decision after a backlash from its clientele, which mostly consists of active and retired military members.

Asked in May for comment, TD Ameritrade told BuzzFeed that it would review the situation, adding that its ad buy “should not be read as a direct sponsorship of the show or Mr. Hannity himself, nor should it be read as an endorsement of the content that appears on the program.”

After hitting a lull, Media Matters renewed its anti-Hannity campaign Friday by updating its advertisers’ list and launching a petition drive called “Stop Hannity,” declaring that, “If Fox won’t fire Hannity, then advertisers should run as fast as they can.”

Likewise, the Democratic Coalition has reinvigorated its push against the top-rated Fox anchor with its #FireHannity drive, which has drawn about 100,000 hits, said Mr. Lerner.

TD Ameritrade had seemed like an unlikely candidate for the boycott effort given the Ricketts family’s well-known support for conservative candidates and causes.

Mr. Ricketts, who retired from the company in 2011, has long backed Republican candidates, as has his son, Todd Ricketts, who serves on TD Ameritrade’s board. Another son, Pete Ricketts, is the Republican governor of Nebraska.

TD Ameritrade is no longer privately held after going public in 1997, but the Rickettses are the largest individual shareholders, according to 2017 securities filings.

Mr. Trump and Joe Ricketts haven’t always been on the same page — the top GOP donor and his wife Marlene initially backed the conservative anti-Trump Our Principles PAC — but they appeared to mend fences after the real estate tycoon won the GOP presidential nomination.

In September Mr. Ricketts contributed $1 million to Future45, a pro-Trump PAC. Mr. Trump later nominated Todd Ricketts to serve as deputy commerce secretary, although he later withdrew over problems with untangling his financial holdings to meet federal ethics standards, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

“The family is quite involved in politics, but that activity is of course separate from any involvement they might have had or have with TD Ameritrade,” said Ms. Hillyer. “As a company we make every effort to remain politically neutral and as a practice do not advocate for the election or defeat of political candidates.”

She added, “Our advertising decisions are also apolitical.”

Mr. Hannity’s show has continued to dominate in its nightly time slot despite the boycott effort and shake-up at Fox brought by a series of high-profile exits, including those of Megyn Kelly and Greta Van Susteren, who left for other networks, and Bill O’Reilly, who was forced out over sexual harassment allegations.

TD Ameritrade says ‘Hannity‘ boycott was drummed up by left

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