September 14, 2016

Group behind ‘New Mexico Truth’ parody ads faces ethics complaint

Screenshot from a New Mexico Truth TV ad.

An ethics complaint from a state representative says a Catholic organization should have to register as a lobbying group because of an advertising campaign that parodies the New Mexico Tourism Department’s “New Mexico True” campaign.

Screenshot from a New Mexico Truth TV ad.

Screenshot from a New Mexico Truth TV ad.

The complaint filed late last month by State Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque, with the Secretary of State’s office says that the “New Mexico Truth” campaign by CHI St. Joseph’s Children is an attempt to lobby legislators to allow voters to decide on tapping into the state’s permanent fund to increase early education funding.

CHI St. Joseph’s supports increased funding for early childhood education.

“A group running a campaign called ‘New Mexico Tuth’ is currently airing television and radio ads lobbying the public in favor of a piece of legislation to raid the state’s permanent fund,” Youngblood wrote in her complaint, filed with the Secretary of State’s office on August 31.

Allen Sanchez, the President and CEO of CHI St. Joseph’s Children, denied the lobbying allegations and said in a short interview Tuesday afternoon that after forwarding the complaint to attorneys, “We feel confident that we have not broken the law in any way.”

He didn’t mince words when saying what he thought of the ethics complaint.

“We take this is a direct retaliation and attack by the representative on a Catholic charity that runs the largest home visiting program in the state,” Sanchez said. “It’s a complete attack on a Catholic charity and totally inappropriate.”

SAnchez said the ads Youngblood referenced were “educational” and did not involve any lobbying for any piece of legislation. He noted that other groups were targeted with similar criticisms in the past.

Youngblood previously filed a similar complaint against Stand4Kids New Mexico, a group critical of school reform under Gov. Susana Martinez. Secretary of State Brad Winter eventually dismissed Youngblood’s complaint to make the group register as a political action committee.

Youngblood’s complaint against CHI St. Joseph’s Children quotes an Associated Press story as evidence that the campaign sought action on a specific bill. The link she provided is no longer available, but that same January 13 story appears on another website.

Sanchez said the intent of “New Mexico Truth” is not to criticize the tourism campaign, but it does want state officials to address child poverty by expanding early childhood education, a move that would be paid for by dipping into one of the state’s permanent funds.

That Democratic-sponsored proposal has been met with fierce resistance from more moderate Senate Democrats. Republican says it also has almost no chance of passing in the GOP-controlled House even if it got out of the Democratic-led Senate.

Youngblood says this shows the ads, which aired during the legislative session and beyond, aired “with the clear intent to influence legislation” and says the article shows “they have admitted as such in the press.”

Sanchez said the ads did not mention any specific legislation.

Much of the initial media attention focused on the fact that the ads looked similar to the New Mexico True campaign.

Republicans criticized the CHI St. Joseph’s campaign, and a spokesman for the governor called the parody campaign “a petty, cynical attempt to hijack an ad campaign that showcases the beauty, diversity and wonders of New Mexico” in a statement to multiple media outlets.

Sanchez said that, as someone who is a registered lobbyist, he understands New Mexico’s laws on lobbying. But, he didn’t rely solely on his own experience.

“This isn’t just based on my experience, it’s based on experience with our attorneys,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez said those attorneys will file a response soon, since he said it is relatively simple.

Still, Sanchez saw the complaint in broader terms.

“This is an attack on us by Rep. Monica Youngblood. And she’s wrong on it. She’s absolutely wrong.”