Monday, June 18, 2012

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: Some Primary Wounds Still Open

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
June 17, 2012

Just when you thought the primary truly was over, here comes a little reminder that some political wounds take time to heal.

Two progressive-leaning Albuquerque groups that earlier this year sent a mailer blasting state Sen. Phil Griego, D-San José, are demanding an apology from the senator — who won his bitterly contested primary this month — over an advertisement that ran in an Albuquerque paper.
Neri Holguin

The ad, “An Open Letter to the Voters of State Senate District 39,” begins, “Most Democratic activists in Santa Fe know that Jack Sullivan’s chief political consultant and campaign manager Neri Holguin is also paid by a so-called ‘nonprofit.’ ”

One small problem with that: Holguin wasn’t paid, secretly or otherwise, by any of the four groups Griego listed. “I was entirely paid by the Sullivan campaign for the management services I provided,” Holguin said Thursday.

Javier Benavidez of the Center for Civic Policy said, “We have contracted with her in the past but not since 2009 — when she completed a one-month contract to research issues related to New Mexico’s Hispanic population for nonpartisan civic engagement.”

Benavidez’s group and the Southwest Organizing Project, in a news release last week, sent letters to the senator as well as the Journal North demanding apologies. They want Griego’s apology to be in the form of an ad at least as big as the one that ran two days before the primary. They want a half-page ad in the Journal North.
Both letters say the groups may seek legal action if the ads aren’t run.

Griego couldn’t be reached for comment.

Griego’s ad correctly says that these organizations don’t disclose their contributors. Personally, as I’ve opined in the past, I believe that’s a bad thing. When any group, no matter what its tax status, sends out a mailer attacking someone running for office in an election, I believe the public should be able to know who’s buying the stamps.

Unfortunately, federal courts disagree. Even before the infamous Citizens United case, the very same groups demanding an apology from Griego were vindicated in court by federal judges who ruled that their election-year mailers aimed at certain legislators were not “political” and the groups did not have to disclose their donors.

Fact check: One item that caught my eye in the news release was a statement that the Journal “appeared to have run these ads without verifying the truth or falsity of these accusations.”

As much as I’d like to pile on a competitor, when I read that I tried to imagine the ad department in any paper fact-checking all the ads that come in. I’ve never met an ad department fact-checker in any of the three papers I’ve worked for (including Journal North). So I asked New Mexican Publisher Ginny Sohn, who used to run our ad department.

“If we see or notice something we believe is wrong, we’ll go back to the candidate and say, you need to rethink this,” Sohn said. But the candidate, not the paper, is responsible for the content — which, she said is why the paper requires ads to include the name and some kind of address or website of the candidate or organization buying them.

So here’s a tip for you the voter: Be very, very skeptical of any political advertising, print, TV or Internet, from any candidate of any stripe.

The New Mexican will be monitoring political ads (TV, print and radio) and checking for accuracy during the upcoming campaign. But that’s a reporter’s job not an ad rep’s.