Campaign ads often use hyperbole to sway voters, but in recent weeks one Albuquerque mayoral candidate appears to have included misleading statements in his campaign material.
Albuquerque City Councilor and mayoral candidate Dan Lewis has not held back on dark, ominous TV ads that say his opponent State Auditor Tim Keller will be soft on criminals. Lewis has cited an Albuquerque Journal editorial endorsing him for mayor in campaign materials, but he also claimed the paper criticized one of Keller’s votes while the Democrat was a State Senator. What Lewis cites is actually an opinion article written by a prominent Keller critic who helped fund other anti-Keller ads.
Earlier this month, Lewis’ campaign announced the release of a TV ad attacking Keller for two of his votes in the state senate. One was a vote to abolish the death penalty and the other was to prohibit cities from creating sex offender registries in addition to what the state already has.
Within the press release was a list of items that purportedly showed flaws in Keller’s voting history. One of those items was a statement that read, “Tim Keller voted to ease restrictions on where child molesters and sex offenders could live, which the ABQ Journal deemed ‘inexcusable,’” with a link to the Journal website.
Except, that article was not written by the paper’s editorial board, nor was it written by a Journal employee. Instead, the campaign linked to an opinion piece written by Jeff Garrett, the president of Garrett Development Corp. The article was critical of Keller and his time in the Senate—but it also offered an explanation for why Garrett’s company donated more than $30,000 to a political group that opposes Keller for mayor. The Garrett op-ed focused primarily on Keller’s vote to prohibit city-level sex offender registries.
The day after the Journal published Garrett’s op-ed, Lewis took another opportunity to claim the paper’s editorial board thought poorly of Keller’s record, during a public debate. In answer to a question about crime in Albuquerque, Lewis again took aim at Keller and his vote on the sex offender registry bill.
“He told people he traded a vote for it and regrets it,” Lewis told the audience.
In response, Keller said he did not regret his vote and pointed to a later bill that included a similar provision, that passed almost unanimously.
“I will never run away from my record,” Keller said. “I’m proud of that vote because it was the right thing to do.”
Squeezing in the last word, Lewis again said the Journal disapproved of Keller’s vote.
“The Albuquerque Journal called it inexcusable,” Lewis said. “It’s dangerous and disgusting.”
Earlier this week, a KOB-TV report highlighted another misleading statement by the Lewis campaign in a TV ad. The ad attributed a quote to Keller that he never made
Neither Lewis or his campaign manager responded to requests for comment for this story.
Keller’s campaign said Lewis’ statements about the Journal was “unbecoming” of a mayoral candidate and did a disservice to the city.
“This is yet another example of Dan Lewis lying about Tim Keller’s record, this time attempting to put words in the mouth of the Albuquerque Journal that were actually said by the well-connected mega-donor behind false, discredited attacks on Tim,” said Jessie Hunt of Rio Strategies, the company running Keller’s campaign.
Hunt also likened Lewis to President Trump.
“Just like Donald Trump, Dan Lewis has resorted to lies and misinformation,” Hunt added.
There is not much Keller’s campaign can do to combat untrue or misleading statements beyond pointing them out.
The Albuquerque election code does not address false statements in campaign material and New Mexico does not have any laws prohibiting lies in campaigns, leaving it up to civil defamation suits in state court. In fact, the 1st Amendment protects most speech and the burden to prove malicious intentions can be difficult.
State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn sued state land commissioner candidate Garrett VeneKlasen for allegedly lying about Dunn. The case is far from being decided, but a judge did rule against prohibiting VeneKlasen from making further statements about Dunn.
The landmark U.S. Supreme Court case New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, and the one VeneKlasen’s attorney referenced in court, highlights the high burden of proof required in a defamation lawsuit. That case states there has to be intended malice for defamation.