On Special Report, Bret Baier reported that Newt Gingrich will announce Thursday that he is forming a presidential exploratory committee, noting that Gingrich is still a Fox News contributor.
CNN reports that employing Gingrich while he is a potential Presidential nominee raises serious legal issues (emphasis added):
When it comes to the law however, a spokesman with the Federal Elections Commission tells CNN there is no express prohibition forbidding a presidential candidate from being simultaneously employed by a television or radio outlet.
But, says FEC spokesman Christian Hilland, "There are some issues that a candidate should be mindful of so that air time isn't considered a prohibited contribution to her or his own campaign."
Specifically, there might be legal issues if Fox allows Gingrich to promote his own campaign or attack other opponents. That would essentially mean Fox would be giving him free airtime, which would require equal time for other candidates. On the other hand, Fox and Gingrich are likely in the clear, according to FEC regulations, if Gingrich restricts on-air comments to subjects other than the presidential campaign.
However, the FEC often makes case-by-case determinations on what is permitted in situations like this, meaning they will likely not weigh in on the issue until a formal complaint is filed.
Still, it is clear none of this is expressly impermissible until Gingrich becomes an express candidate for office. That won't occur until he raises at least $5,000 or refers to himself as a presidential candidate, according to the FEC.
Indeed, Fox News donated the equivalent of $55 million in free advertising to five of their employees who are potential presidential nominees in 2010, including about $7.41 million dollars for Gingrich. In his capacity as a Fox News contributor, Gingrich has defended the 1995 government shutdown, all while his Fox News colleagues downplay the potential impact of a government shutdown.
CNN shed light on how responsible news organizations deal with the ethical issues involved:
CNN faced similar circumstances in the 1990s with Crossfire co-host Pat Buchanan when he ran for the Republican Presidential nomination. CNN ended Buchanan's duties on the show once it was clear that he was seriously considering a presidential bid.
Buchanan, who now works as an analyst on MSNBC, offered his view Tuesday.
"If I announce an exploratory committee for President, I should and would take a leave of absence from the network," Buchanan said.
UPDATE: Fox News' ethic crisis escalates: On tonight's episode of Hannity, Sean Hannity and Frank Luntz speculated about whether Gingrich would run.
Gingrich is scheduled to appear on Hannity this Friday. Hannity has promised to ask him about his plans for 2012.