Mia Love and Ben McAdams slam each other in new attack ads

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams announces his plans to run against two-term Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, for the state's 4th Congressional District, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017. (Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah 4th District Rep. Mia Love meets with The Salt Lake Tribune's editorial board Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016.

Democratic Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams launched his first attack ad Tuesday against GOP Rep. Mia Love — who at the same time unleashed a second one against him in their 4th Congressional District race.

Both sides insist their ads aren’t really negative and just point out hard facts. But some of the assertions in both ads don’t stand up well to outside scrutiny.

McAdams’ new television ad asks, “What do Washington politicians do when caught with $1 million in illegal contributions? Mia Love kept the money and is using it to make false attacks against Ben McAdams.”

It refers to the Federal Election Commission earlier this month questioning why Love raised $1 million for a primary election that was never held — and writing that she must refund it to donors or have them redesignate it to another election.

The ad says she used illegal donations to fund ads that falsely accuse McAdams of supporting tax hikes, with Draper Mayor Troy Walker, a Republican, making an appearance to say (as he did in an earlier ad) that McAdams “lowered the county tax rate every year.”

The ad alleges that Love has been “repeatedly accused of violating ethics laws and misusing taxpayer money for her benefit.” It adds, “Mia’s changed. She’s gone Washington” — as she is pictured next to President Donald Trump, who polls show is a relatively unpopular and controversial figure in Utah, particularly in the 4th District.

Love’s new ad, meanwhile, shows former President Bill Clinton — who was never popular in Utah — supposedly leaving a voicemail for McAdams thanking him for his help when he was a White House intern, then for “moving to New York to work on Hillary’s Senate campaign.”

It adds, “Thanks for endorsing Hillary for president, and for serving on her presidential campaign committee in Utah. Ben, you are a great friend to Hillary and me. And if you win, Nancy Pelosi will be in charge. I know you’ll do a great job working for her, too.”

Both sides see the opponent’s ad as negative but not their own.

“I don’t think it’s negative,” Dave Hansen, Love’s campaign manager, said about the Clinton-McAdams ad. “Look, 35 to 50 percent of the people in this district don’t know a lot about Ben. And he’s not going to tell you about his training with the Clintons, and it’s a part of him. That’s why we did it.”

Andrew Roberts, McAdams’ campaign manager, said about the mayor’s ad, “We don’t see this as a negative. It was only a month ago that media outlets throughout the state reported that Mia Love admitted to raising $1 million in violation of campaign finance laws,” and says she is using it for deceptive ads. “That’s something Utahns ought to know.”

Both campaigns take issue with the opponents’ assertions in the new ads.

Hansen said that to say Love “raised $1 million illegally is absolutely false. The FEC has not said that she did anything wrong. It has not charged her with anything or insinuated that she did anything wrong. They have just asked some questions. … We answered. We have not heard back from them.”

However, a letter from the FEC told her that since she did not face a primary, “any contribution received for this election must be returned to the donors or redesignated to another election” with written permission of donors. Love agreed to do that with $370,000 raised after she clinched the GOP nomination at the party’s convention, where she faced no Republican challenger.

Hansen has also insisted McAdams has backed tax increases — even though he continually insists he lowered tax rates every year.

As The Salt Lake Tribune previously reported, lower tax rates do not necessarily equate to lower taxes. The county had to hold Truth in Taxation hearings twice during McAdams’ administration for property tax increases — once because he chose not to lower taxes after an old bond was paid off and a second time because higher assessed property values generated excess revenue even with a lower rate.

Roberts took issue with Love attacking McAdams for serving in the White House as an intern.

“She’s doing exactly what someone embroiled in scandal does. She’s misleading Utahns about a decades-old college internship in an attempt to distract about dollars she raised in violation of the law,” he said.

“This was an internship through the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics. He was a college kid fresh off his mission to Brazil. I’m sure thousands of Utahns have had similar internships.”

McAdams also has repeatedly said he will not vote for Pelosi of California as leader of House Democrats if he is elected — and says Love assertions otherwise are deceptive.

Still, Hansen said, “I know Ben is trying to run away from Nancy Pelosi as hard as he can. But the simple fact is if he wins and the Democrats get control of Congress, Nancy Pelosi is going to be speaker. There is no way he can run away from that.”