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UPDATE PDC: Connelly’s campaign Facebook page falsely implies Franklin’s endorsement, but probably isn’t illegal

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on July 6, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
July 9, 2012 10:42 am

UPDATE: 10:30 a.m. July 9, 2012

Jack Connelly said this morning the posting of Rosa Franklin‘s photograph on his campaign Facebook page never meant to imply that the former senator was endorsing him.

“I never even saw the picture,” Connelly said.  ”A volunteer did that (posted it), and just feels awful about it.  But there was no intent to imply an endorsement by Rosa Franklin. To be honest we never thought about it, it was just something that happened at a campaign event.”

Still, Connelly said his campaign has taken the photo down out of respect to Franklin.

“The primary reason I took it down, because of the article, we felt Rosa had been put in an awkward position,” he said.

Connelly added his campaign felt “singled out” by the Poli Buzz post because he has noticed his opponent, Jeannie Darneille, has used similar photographs on her site.  Connelly cited a photograph of Darneille with U.S. Sen. Patty Murray.

“Both campaigns have done the same thing,” he said.

Darneille said this morning she did have a photograph of herself and Murray – being honored by the National Association of the Repeal of Abortion Laws — on her personal Facebook page, but she took it down this weekend.

“I took it down after reading (the blog post),” she said. “I wanted to make sure I didn’t face the same scrutiny, and I have not asked for Patty’s endorsement.”

Darneille noted the photograph was on her personal page — not a campaign page — so wasn’t implying Murray’s endorsement.

“I’ve never used a picture in any kind of purposeful way like that,” she said.

Original post

The campaign Facebook page of Tacoma trial lawyer and legislative candidate Jack Connelly recently posted a snapshot of a smiling exchange between Connelly and retired state Sen. Rosa Franklin, taken during a recent event on Tacoma’s Hilltop.

This photograph of Rosa Franklin with Jack Connelly dominates Connelly's campaign Facebook page, but Franklin hasn

But the state’s campaign watchdog believes the photograph may give a false impression – implying that Franklin, a venerable Tacoma legislator and a leader of the city’s African American community, is endorsing Connelly’s bid for the state senate.

Franklin said this week she likes both candidates in the race for the 27th District senate seat, but she isn’t formally supporting either Connelly or his opponent, state Rep. Jeannie Darneille.

“They’ve both asked, but I said no, I’m not endorsing anyone,”  Franklin said. “I’m being really careful of putting my name out there since I’ve left the legislature.”

While the photograph may be misleading, it’s probably not illegal, said Lori Anderson, spokeswoman for the state’s Public Disclosure Commission. Under the latest version of the state’s false campaign advertising law, an implied endorsement must be shown to be defamatory or libelous to be found unlawful.

“It’s his background picture on the top of his Facebook page,” Anderson said of the photograph. “It’s very prominent, so in that case, I think it’s definitely implying an endorsement.”

“But,” she added, “with the new defamation test, I don’t think it’s something that we would bring to the Commission for review.”

Connelly did not return a telephone message left with his campaign staff Friday.

A photograph of Connelly with Franklin also appeared in a campaign newsletter, distributed by Connelly’s campaign on July 4 to undisclosed recipients. The newsletter provided information about how to support Connelly’s campaign and gave an update on his campaign activities.  It also described Connelly’s involvement in a June 28 program to celebrate the Oasis of Hope community center on the Hilltop.

Franklin, who attended the event, said the pictures were taken when Connelly came up to say hello.

“I was speaking with someone else, and he came up and said, `I was supposed to recognize you and I didn’t,’” Franklin recalled. “I didn’t see (the photo) in any letter or anything.”

Anderson said the newsletter “isn’t quite as bad as the Facebook page.”

“It might be a stretch to say that one’s an implied endorsement,” she said.

In either case, it would be difficult to challenge the photograph as an  unlawful implied endorsement, Anderson added.  That’s because in 2007, the state Supreme Court narrowly ruled the state’s false campaign advertising law was unconstitutional, as it violated free speech protections.

“The Court said you can’t be telling people what they can or cannot say, unless they’re saying something that’s harmful to someone else,” Anderson said.

The Legislature has since amended the law to include a libel/defamation test.  It requires showing a false campaign advertisement, electioneering communication or implied endorsement “will expose the person or organization (depicted) to contempt, ridicule, or reproach, or injure the person or organization in their business or occupation.”

In this case, Anderson said, “it would be the Sentator’s burden to tell us how she was harmed.”

Franklin said Friday she hasn’t seen the photographs.

“I don’t think there’s a problem,” she added. “But I will call and ask and talk with him about using my picture on something I have not seen.”

Since the amended law was passed, the PDC has not challenged any political ads or endorsements, Anderson said.

“There would have to be some real special circumstances for (PDC) staff to ever take something like that to the commission,” she added. “Of course, that doesn’t mean if someone came to us and complained about a false endorsement, we wouldn’t contact the person’s campaign about the ad.”

“It’s unfortunate now that there’s a defamation test in there,” Anderson added. “It is allowing candidates to do a little mischief where they shouldn’t be. But what are you going to do?”

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