Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Roundhouse Roundup: Just the Factcheck, Ma'am

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
May 27, 2010

The increasingly bitter Republican gubernatorial primary and the attack ads of Susana Martinez and Allen Weh have caught the attention of, a nonprofit website that “aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics.”

“We can’t recall a time when a candidate’s ad was denounced as misleading and dishonest by the head of his own party,” said an article by FactCheck staffers Eugene Kiely and Viveca Novak. “But that’s what has happened in New Mexico.”

That’s a reference to state GOP chairman Harvey Yates, who on Sunday scolded Weh for his recent attack ad against Martinez — the one that alleged Martinez was “caught red-handed” not paying taxes and spent taxpayer dollars on iPods and meals at Hooters.

In the same news release, Yates also said Martinez’s ad attacking Weh for supporting “amnesty” for illegal immigrants was not untruthful and “reasonably supported.”

“All this got our attention, so we conducted our own review,” Kiely and Novak wrote. “Our conclusion: Yates is right. The Weh ad is indeed a gross distortion of the truth.”

However, concerning Yates’ favorable verdict on Martinez’s “amnesty” ad, FactCheck disagreed.

“It’s true that Weh supported the same approach that was backed by President George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain, the party’s 2008 nominee for president, in an immigration bill in 2006,” the article said. “And many Republicans still characterize that bill as providing ‘amnesty’ for illegal immigrants. But as we have long pointed out, ‘amnesty’ is an emotion-laden word that does not accurately describe what the bill would have provided, or what Weh was supporting.”

“We think there’s plenty of evidence to find guilt on both sides,” Kiely and Novak conclude. is a creature of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.

Enchanted Land no stranger to FactCheck: It’s been a while since New Mexico politicians showed up on I believe the most recent time before Wednesday was two years ago, when the site criticized attacks by Steve Pearce and an anti-abortion group supporting his Senate bid against Heather Wilson in the Republican U.S. Senate primary.

Back when he was running for president, the current governor made frequent appearances in articles. “New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson added to his string of inflated, false or dubious claims,” the website said following a presidential debate in December 2007. “Democrat Bill Richardson also mangled the facts repeatedly,” FactCheck said in a ‘year-in-review” piece later that month.

State chairmen as referees: While it indeed is unusual for a state party chairman to get involved in a negative ad mudfest during a primary, Yates isn’t the first to do so.

Back in 2002, when Diane Denish and Jerry Sandel were duking it out for Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor with tough television ads, then state Democratic chairman Jamie Koch stepped in.

The big difference between Koch’s intervention and Yates’ is that Koch didn’t take sides. Everyone assumed that he favored Denish because he was a business partner with her father, the late Jack Daniels. But the letter Koch sent to both campaigns revealed no bias.

“Our candidates are strong enough to run on their own records without having to attack another good Democrat,” Koch said. “I’m not going to get into who started what first and who’s to blame for these negative ads. I’m just going to ask that it cease.”

He couldn’t resist a partisan jab, writing, “We don’t want to descend to the level of Republicans, some of whom don’t seem to mind lying about each other’s record to get elected.” (At the time eventual GOP gubernatorial nominee John Sanchez was running ads linking Republican opponent Walter Bradley to state Senate powerhouse Manny Aragon, a Democrat -- and one who currently is in federal prison for corruption charges.)

But neither Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor heeded Koch’s words. Denish went on to become Richardson’s running mate, and now she’s running for governor.