Tit-for-tat? Democrats file complaint against Turner over TV ads

Aug 03, 2018
  • By Will Garbe
  • Staff Writer
Mike Turner and Theresa Gasper. FILE

The Ohio Democratic Party filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission this week against Congressman Mike Turner, R-Dayton, accusing him of violating basic rules governing television ads purchased by candidates.

The party’s grievance follows Turner filing his own complaint last week against Theresa Gasper, the Democrat running to represent Ohio’s 10th Congressional District.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Democratic Party hinted the filing is a tit-for-tat response to the congressman, suggesting “perhaps Mike Turner should focus on his own campaign, rather than picking petty political fights.”

“… Turner is running a campaign that flouts federal law and violates the most basic rules for TV commercials that ensure a candidate has approved the communication,” said Kirstin Alvanitakis, the spokesperson.

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Turner did not address the allegations in response to a request for comment from this news outlet but instead released a statement highlighting the topics of the ads and the women they feature.

“I am very proud of the work I’ve done to prevent sexual assault in the military, protect the custody rights of our deployed men and women in uniform, curb the opioid epidemic, and improve foster care,” he said. “I am incredibly grateful to these women for sharing their stories with our community and being strong public advocates for important change.”

In a separate statement, Jim Innocenzi, founding partner of the firm Sandler-Innocenzi, which produced Turner’s ad, said the ads “comply with all requirements” and “any statements to the contrary are false.”

The Democrats allege Turner violated an arcane part of elections law known as the “Stand By Your Ad” provision.

Election year television viewers would likely recognize the audio and visual portion of the provision, in which candidates appear on screen, introduce themselves and say something to the effect of, “I approve this message.”

“Although the advertisements include an audio disclaimer spoken by Rep. Turner and a ‘paid for by’ disclaimer at the end the ads, the ads fail to include written statements indicating that Rep. Turner has approved the communications,” the Democratic complaint said.

It later continues, “Notably, the communication must also include a written statement that identifies the candidate and indicates that he approves the communication, that ‘must appear in clearly readable writing’ at the end of the advertisement. … Simply including a written ‘paid for by’ disclaimer on television advertisements does not comply with the law’s requirements.”

At the end of Turner’s ads in question, the message “Paid for by Citizens for Turner” appears. In comparison, a 2012 television ad Turner’s campaign shared on Facebook ends with the written phrase, “Paid for and authorized by Citizens for Turner.”

In another comparison, the Sandler-Innocenzi portfolio also features a 2013 ad for Cynthia Lummis, a former U.S. representative from Wyoming, which ends with the written words “Paid for and approved by Lummis for Congress.”

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Records available from the Federal Communications Commission show Turner has purchased around $54,000 of television ads so far this year.

Turner’s ads are mostly targeted toward morning programs, including CBS This Morning and Good Morning America, and local news broadcasts, the FCC records show.

Last week, Turner filed a complaint against Gasper’s campaign alleging it “knowingly and intentionally misled the public for fundraising purposes” when the campaign included the names of five local universities above lists of individuals at those schools who support her campaign. Gapser’s campaign called the matter a “formatting error” and criticized Turner’s response as “over-the-top.”

Whether the Federal Elections Commission will take up either complaint is unclear. The commission is supposed to be made up of six members, with no more than three members of the same political party. Currently, the commission has two Republicans, one Democrat, one Independent and two vacant seats. The complaint process requires a vote by at least four of the commissioners to initiate an investigation, find that a violation has occurred, or settle a matter.

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