The chairman of the Republican Party of New Mexico says he can’t ignore dishonesty in his own party any more than he can in the Democratic Party, and that’s why he’s calling out GOP gubernatorial candidate Allen Weh for running misleading ads attacking opponent Susana Martinez.
The criticism – a highly unusual step for a party chair – comes a little more than a week before the primary and as the race has degraded into a nasty battle between Martinez and Weh.
Citing the fact that the party has spent months asking voters to restore honesty and ethics in Santa Fe by electing Republican candidates, GOP Chairman Harvey E. Yates said Sunday in an interview that he had no choice but to call out Weh after Weh refused to stop airing false attack ads on radio and TV against Martinez.
“If we can’t get this message through that we’re going to stand for honesty, then why have we been talking about it?” Yates asked.
The chairman said he called a committee of three people – including himself – to examine complaints about negative ads Martinez and Weh were running. The committee asked both campaigns for supporting evidence for their ads. After reviewing the documentation, the committee found Martinez’s ad – which accused Weh of supporting amnesty – to be “reasonably supported” by the documentation Martinez provided, a news release from Yates said.
But Weh’s ads, which accuse Martinez of not paying taxes, were different. From Yates’ news release:
“In Mr. Weh’s ad he suggests that Ms. Martinez has not paid her taxes. No support for that was found in the documents. Mr. Weh’s ads imply that Ms. Martinez has misused public funds in a variety of ways. Yet, an examination of the documents not only did not substantiate that claim, the examination results suggest that Ms. Martinez has handled public funds properly. In short, the effort undertaken revealed that Mr. Weh’s recent radio and TV ads are misleading.”
Yates’ release was sent from his personal e-mail account, not a state GOP address.
Yates said in the release that the tax claim was especially concerning.
“I note that when Mr. Weh accuses Ms. Martinez of failure to pay her taxes, this can be taken as suggesting possible felonious conduct on the part of Ms. Martinez. This suggestion by Mr. Weh, without clear evidence, is inappropriate,” Yates said.
“Republicans expect honesty in government,” he said. “How likely is that result if dishonesty in campaigning is tolerated in those we elect to run government?”
Weh accuses Yates of being ‘biased’
Weh was harsh in his response, which came from Campaign Manager Whitney Cheshire.
“Instead of letting rank-and-file Republicans think and speak for themselves, which thankfully will occur on Election Day, a group of self-appointed party insiders has wrongly and inexplicably decided to give Susana Martinez a free pass when it comes to keeping her word about running a negative campaign,” Cheshire said in a news release.
“The chairman’s biased interference in a primary contest is harmful to the Republican Party and wrong for our state,” said Cheshire, a former columnist for this site. “We stand by our ad’s accuracy. Mrs. Martinez’s multiple ads falsely accusing Allen Weh of supporting amnesty are fundamentally dishonest and misleading.”
Debunking Weh’s TV ad
Weh’s TV ad states that Martinez “failed to pay taxes.” That statement is prefaced by a claim that auditors “caught her red handed,” and then the ad goes on to say, “Look how Martinez spends our tax dollars: extravagant dinners, luxury hotels, dinner at Hooters – even iPods. Wasting money, breaking the rules. Career politician Susana Martinez. A false campaign, unpaid taxes, bad judgment.”
To back up the claims in its TV and radio ads, the Weh campaign provided me with a fact sheet, the 3rd Judicial District Attorney’s 2008 audit report and receipts documenting travel expenses for the 3rd District office. I assume these are the same documents that were provided to Yates.
The audit report found that Martinez’s office paid some people to destroy old documents as contractors when they should have been paid as employees. Paying them as employees would have required that Martinez’s office pay Federal Insurance Contributions Act tax. That’s the basis for the “unpaid taxes” claim.
But instead of explaining that, the ads present the tax issue as either a claim that Martinez avoided personal taxes, or that her office’s failure to pay taxes somehow involved “extravagant dinners, luxury hotels, dinner at Hooters – even iPods.” Neither is supported by documents provided by the Weh campaign.
The Martinez campaign said hiring contractors to destroy records was approved by the state Department of Finance and Administration two years in a row before an auditor determined they should have been paid as employees.
As for the travel expenses, Martinez noted that DFA also approved those reimbursements, which all fell within allowable costs. No alcohol costs were reimbursed. The iPods, Martinez said, “are used for listening to witness and defendant statements and jail phone calls,” and listening to such audio recordings has helped lead to convictions.
Though Martinez attacked first, she has been on the warpath since Weh started airing his negative ads, decrying them as false and challenging Weh to release his taxes to prove he’s paid them – a challenge Weh has ignored. Martinez released hers to prove Weh’s ads wrong.
‘We’ve got to be honest’
In the interview, Yates said he knows his statements could be used against Weh and Republicans in the general election if Weh wins the primary.
“That is a very difficult thing. You’re up against a wall and you have a decision to make,” he said. “Do you stand up for honesty and say you’ve got to be honest, or do you back off because there may be some adverse impact on the Republican Party?”
“My view is that we’ve got to take a longer view. We’ve got to be honest, and we’ve got to insist that the Democrats are,” he said. “I would just urge everybody to move toward doing things that are clearly honest. Let’s win our elections – whichever side – by stating facts honestly and letting the people decide.”
Yates said the committee started out by asking Weh to stop airing the false ads. The Weh campaign made “a suggestion” it would stop airing the ads, Yates said, but Weh failed to provide evidence that it had told TV stations to stop airing the ads and a written pledge to not air misleading ads in the future.
Weh campaign spokesman Christopher Sanchez hasn’t responded to an e-mail asking if Weh had agreed to take down the ads.
Yates said the campaign’s failure to provide proof it was stopping the ads and a written pledge that it wouldn’t air more dishonest ads led him to make his public statement. But he said his criticism of Weh isn’t an endorsement of Martinez – or a statement of opposition to Weh’s candidacy.
“We are not going in this case against Allen Weh,” he said. “We are just saying use honest ads, and if this had been Susana Martinez we would have done the same thing, or anyone else. … If people were going to vote for Allen Weh, they need to go on and do that, and we’re certainly not endorsing other candidates.”