Thursday, June 14, 2012
Advertisement Falsely Accused Organizations of Illegal Activities
Legal counsel representing New Mexico’s Center for Civic Policy (CCP) and the SouthWest Organizing Project (SWOP), two non-profit nonpartisan civic engagement organizations, sent letters to Senator Phil Griego and the Albuquerque Journal calling for a public apology and retraction of a defamatory advertisement.
The advertisement, paid for by the Committee to Elect Phil Griego, ran in the Albuquerque Journal North on Saturday, June 2nd, 2012 and falsely accused both organizations of illegally funding the work of the campaign of Senator Phil Griego’s opponent in the June primary election. See ad here Journal North P. Griego Ad
“The blatantly false allegations made by Phil Griego’s campaign are unacceptable. To accuse us of these kinds of illegal electoral activities is malicious and requires public correction,” said Stephanie Maez-Gibson, CEO of the Center for Civic Policy. “Our organizations have extensive track records of non-partisan civic engagement. This is an example of Senator Griego’s apparent intent to obstruct and retaliate against our efforts to educate New Mexicans on important legislative issues.
Phil Griego’s half-page advertisement dishonestly alleged that CCP and SWOP secretly paid the campaign manager of one of Griego’s opponents in the June election. Those flagrant falsehoods contain serious charges, implying that CCP and SWOP have been engaged in criminal conduct. The actual facts in the matters concerned, which contradict those charges, could have been easily obtained and verified by both Griego and the Albuquerque Journal.
“Our history of non-partisan civic engagement year in and year out, including directly communicating to the public about voting records of public officials, is well established.” said Bineshi Albert, Co-Director of the SouthWest Organizing Project. “To see an ad like this that attempts to paint our non-partisan work as electioneering strikes us as a low-blow, especially in light of the media’s extensive coverage of the recent 10th Circuit Court ruling that established irrefutably our right to such free speech.”
With regard to the Albuquerque Journal’s role in the matter, both organizations are inquiring about the newspaper’s process for fact-checking the material that it publishes. In this instance, it is particularly troubling that the Journal appeared to have run these ads without verifying the truth or falsity of these accusations, given that the Journal is well aware of the free speech protections that have been accorded to the civic engagement work of CCP and SWOP.
As recently as April 13th of this year, an article in the Journal recognized the 10th Circuit District Court affirmation of the organizations’ free speech right to engage New Mexicans in the public policy process – a piece of reporting that effectively refuted previous false accusations that the work instead was a prohibited form of “express advocacy.” Electioneering, or coordinating with any campaign, would jeopardize the non-profit statuses of each organization. Conspiring to hide campaign donations would also subject them to various criminal penalties.