CNN's Castellanos returned $12K RNC payment

On October 15, 2009, the Republican National Committee paid $12,000 to CNN contributor Alex Castellanos, a payment that apparently violated CNN's stated policy. When contacted last week by Media Matters, Castellanos said he was initially unaware of the payment and returned it last year when he “found out.”

“I was not aware of the payment because ours is a large business and an employee who handles and processes payments for me dealt with the RNC transaction,” Castellanos said.

“CNN's preference and policy is that I don't work for the RNC or political candidates. When I found out that I was being paid by the RNC, I returned it,” Castellanos said. “I wish I could keep it. I would like to add to the economic recovery.”

According to its year-end Federal Election Commission report, filed on January 22, the RNC received $12,000 back from Castellanos on December 7, 2009.

In a statement to Media Matters, CNN said: “Alex told CNN that there had been a mix-up and the RNC had paid him when they weren't supposed to and as soon as he discovered it, he returned the money and then he let CNN know what had happened.”

“Not only did Alex do the right thing by returning the money, he also demonstrated his independence from the party chairman by calling for Michael Steele to step aside," CNN stated.

In November, five weeks after the RNC sent Castellanos the $12,000 -- and approximately two weeks before the RNC reported it received the money back from Castellanos -- CNN responded to news that Castellanos “assume[d] a senior communications role at” the RNC by stating that he could simultaneously work for CNN and advise the RNC because his RNC role was “unpaid.”

In a piece about CNN's “policy on political consultants,” The New York Times reported on November 24 that “a CNN spokeswoman said the appointment would not disqualify Mr. Castellanos for working as a paid commentator because his job for the R.N.C. was an unpaid position.” The Huffington Post's Sam Stein ran a November 24 statement from CNN stating: “CNN has political strategists that provide unpaid advice to both sides of the aisle, and Alex will remain as a CNN contributor ... CNN will continue to be vigilant in disclosing contributor affiliations and their profiles.”

CNN also said on-air that Castellanos' role with the RNC was “unpaid.” On the November 25, 2009, edition of The Situation Room, Suzanne Malveaux introduced Castellanos by stating: “And our other insider, Republican consultant and CNN political contributor Alex Castellanos. He is also an unpaid adviser for the Republican National Committee.” On-air CNN text similar identified Castellanos as an “unpaid adviser to the Republican National Committee.”

Last October, Media Matters documented that Castellanos' consulting firm, National Media Inc., has health care industry clients, prompting CNN to state that it would disclose his firms' ties. Purple Strategies, where Castellanos is a partner, was hired by BP to do consulting work. CNN has stated it will not use Castellanos to comment on oil issues.

Castellanos-RNC timeline

October 15, 2009: RNC pays Castellanos $12K, according to FEC report.

November 23, 2009: CNN, among other outlets, report that Castellanos “assume[s]” RNC advisory role.

November 24, 2009: CNN defends Castellanos' employment at CNN because he is providing “unpaid” consulting to the RNC.

November 25, 2009: CNN anchor Malveaux tells viewers that Castellanos is working “unpaid” for the RNC.

December 7, 2009: RNC reports receiving $12K from Castellanos, according to FEC report.

Castellanos' $12,000 “consulting” payment from the RNC on October 15, 2009, filed on November 20, 2009:

Castellanos' return of the $12K, dated December 7, 2009:

From the November 25, 2009, edition of CNN's The Situation Room: