Mia Love says outside liberal group was forced to pull ‘defamatory ad,’ but group disputes that

Rep. Mia Love answers a question as she and Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams take part in a debate at the Gail Miller Conference Center at Salt Lake Community College in Sandy, Monday, Oct. 15, 2018. The two are battling for Utah's 4th Congressional District seat.

Rep. Mia Love’s campaign ballyhooed in a news release Friday that an out-of-state liberal group was forced to pull a TV ad that Love says is defamatory — and attacked it as part of “lying” by “Ben McAdams and his liberal allies.”

But that group disputes Love’s assertion.

“We’re on the air and will continue making sure that voters know the facts about how Mia Love is only serving herself in Congress,” said Craig Varoga, spokesman for Patriot Majority USA, a Washington-based group that has said it aims to spend about $500,000 in “independent expenditures” to help elect McAdams, the Democrat.

Love’s release said it had complained to local TV stations that an ad by the group falsely asserted that she illegally raised more than $1 million for a primary that was never held. It said Love sent to stations an email she received from the Federal Election Commission this week saying she could keep most of it.

“We have just learned that Patriot Majority is now taking down their ad in an acknowledgment that the ad that they’ve been showing Utah voters this week was false all along,” Love’s news release said.

The Salt Lake Tribune asked Patriot Majority if that is true, and Varoga emailed that the group is still on the air — and still is asserting that Love violated election law. While the FEC has said she may keep money she raised for the never-held primary up to when the state GOP convention nominated her, she still raised $370,000 after that and has agreed to refund or redesignate it to other elections.

“Mia Love is desperate to hide the fact that she took more than $380,000 worth of illegal contributions for a nonexistent primary election, and that she also was forced to pay back taxpayer money used to attend a fancy party back in Washington,” Varoga said in the email.

Dave Hansen, Love’s campaign manager, initially said the group was forced to take down its original ad and replace it. When told about Patriot Majority’s email, he revised that a bit.

“They didn’t necessarily have to, but they could see the writing on the wall with the FEC general counsel’s statement that their ad was not in line with that. They took it down and replaced it with something else. If they felt comfortable with what their first ad said, they wouldn’t have taken it down,” he said.

Patriot Majority still has the original ad posted online.

Earlier, the Love campaign news release quoted Hansen saying removal of the ad “is further proof that Ben McAdams and his liberal allies have been lying all along. … We expect that Ben and this coordinated Democratic attack will keep trying to spread falsehoods about Congresswoman Love.”

By law, “independent expenditure” groups cannot coordinate their work with the campaigns of candidates — even though Love’s release referred to Patriot Majority as a “Ben McAdams-allied group.” The Tribune has found that outside groups plan at least $1.5 million for both McAdams and Love from now to the convention.

Love earlier this week also made a statement that didn’t pan out as she said initially. During the race’s one and only debate Monday, Love said the FEC had essentially cleared her after raising questions about the $1 million for the never-held primary. “The FEC actually said that if you call them, they will corroborate what we have said,” she told reporters.

When The Tribune called the federal agency the next day, the FEC had no comment — and would not confirm or deny what Love said, resulting in an embarrassing story for her.

After prodding by Love, the FEC sent an email the next day saying the agency has concluded the Love campaign “could retain the primary election contributions it received prior to April 21, 2018, the date Ms. Love became the nominee at the party convention."

While Love says the FEC email essentially clears her, the left-leaning Alliance for a Better Utah disputes that. It filed a separate complaint with the FEC about the fundraising and said the FEC notified it last week that it was investigating and would send a letter about any status change. The alliance said it has received no letters.

The group’s board has several McAdams supporters and allies on it.