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DeMaio Warns Stations To Stop Running Negative Ad

Katie Orr, KPBS metro reporter, talks about a new TV ad against Carl DeMaio.

— City Councilman and leading San Diego mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio is striking out against a political ad he calls libelous.

The ad features the voice of Michelle Bennett, widow of San Diego Police Officer Terry Bennett, who was killed in the line of duty. Text in the ad says DeMaio voted to deny benefits to widows and orphans of fallen officers.

Leading San Diego mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio is striking out against a political ad he calls libelous. But the group behind the ad is standing by it.

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DeMaio’s attorney has sent cease and desist letters to several San Diego TV stations warning them to stop airing the ad or risk a libel and slander lawsuit.

Brian Marvel is the president of the San Diego Police Officers Association, which paid for the ad.

“I’m a little bit shocked by the tone of the letter. I really felt that he was being a bully and he’s bullying the stations into taking the ad down,” he said. “We stand by the content that he voted against those benefits.”

Marvel said all of the stations are continuing to run the ad. POA's attorney sent the stations a letter advising them to keep running the spot. The widow featured in the ad issued a statement reaffirming her part in the ad.

DeMaio did vote against legislation at the July 27, 2011 City Council meeting that modified San Diego’s agreement with the Police Officers Association. The issue came up about 40 minutes into the meeting. Part of the legislation called for increasing, but not denying, survivor benefits. Article 67 of Item S400 on the meeting's agenda reads:

"LINE OF DUTY DEATH

The City will pay for the reasonable burial and interment expenses for the family of any officer killed in the line of duty, not to exceed $5,000. The City will also provide an additional $5,000 to an officer’s family to use at their discretion. The City will pay for the highest cost HMO health plan for the surviving spouse and eligible dependents of any officer killed in the line of duty by external violence or physical force, or as a result of an accident or injury caused by external violence or physical force and suffered in the line of duty."

The language in bold represents the increase in benefits.

DeMaio said he would have supported the increase in benefits if he could have voted on it separately. He pointed out he wrote a similar benefit into Proposition B, the pension reform measure on Tuesday’s ballot.

DeMaio said the ad represents a new low in the campaign.

“As someone who lost my own mother as a young child, I understand how important these benefits are,” he said. “And it’s just so offensive that the labor union would misrepresent who I am in this campaign.”

DeMaio said he believes the union waited until the last minute to run the ad so he wouldn’t have time to respond. The POA said it took time to raise the money needed to pay for it.

According to www.broadcastlawblog.com, the Federal Communication Commission gives stations a lot of leeway when it comes to political ads. Terry Francke is an attorney with CalAware, an open government advocacy group. He said as a public figure, DeMaio would have a high standard to meet to prove the stations are liable.

“(That) the defendant knew that the statement was essentially a lie, or had strong serious doubts about its truthfulness,” Francke said.

DeMaio said he went after the stations so aggressively in an attempt to keep the ad from getting out because he doesn’t have time to respond. He said if the stations continue to air it, so be it.

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