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Found Money at KECI

Here’s an interesting station story for the ethics referees out there. KECI Missoula reported on former Burger King marketing president Russ Klein putting a backpack containing $6,000 in cash in what he thought was his rental car in Kalispell, Montana, but was in fact someone else’s car.

The someone else who owned the car turned the backpack–and cash–in, and refused reward money from Klein, who recently split from BK for personal reasons.

Klein then took the $8,000 he’d slated for the reward and gave it to both KECI and the Kalispell police, to be divvied up for the charities of the station’s (and cops’) choosing. Here’s what Klein told

“It’s easy to pay back, and in this case, it’s easy to pay back the community for the honesty that brought back our luggage,” Klein said. “But we try to pay it forward, too. It’s the way we try to teach our kids and our family all along. Before you’re owed anything, try to give ahead of time, and it creates a certain vibe in your life.”

Again, all of the reward money is to go to charity. But some wonder if it’s fishy for a station–and the police, for that matter–to receive cash from the subject of a story it reported on, even if the station is to donate the money.

Here’s what Peter Romeo of the Restaurant Reality Check blog had to say about it [Disclosure: Peter was my boss from 2002 to 2005].

Trust me on this, but it’s highly unusual for a news outlet to be forwarded a tidy sum of money by someone it’s covering. Ditto for a police department that’s been called upon to help in the situation. Put those two rarities together, and you have something of legendary uniqueness. We’re talking something on a Lady Gaga scale.

I put a call into KECI’s GM earlier today and haven’t heard back. KECI is an NBC affiliate. It’s owned by Bonten and its slogan is “Earning Your Trust.”

RTNDA chief Stacey Woelfel said the Klein-KECI transaction was “the first I’ve seen of this,” but said he didn’t have a problem with it.

“Just reading its own story, it doesn’t sound like the station solicited the reward from the donor. I’m not sure it could have said “no” to the donation. If that’s the case, giving it away to a community charity seems like the right approach. I would probably do the same thing in the same situation.

Anyone else got a take on it? Is it a non-issue, or should stations have policies in place to prevent them from receiving such rewards?