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Business group leader files lawsuit against state GOP

SANTA FE – The head of a state business group filed a defamation lawsuit against the Republican Party of New Mexico on Wednesday, the latest chapter in a dispute sparked by anonymous emails and party infighting.

Carla Sonntag, president and founder of the New Mexico Business Coalition, filed the civil suit in the Albuquerque-based 2nd Judicial District Court, several weeks after demanding that state GOP leaders apologize for singling her out as the source of the anonymous emails and make other concessions.

The emails in question levied allegations against several prominent Republicans in the run-up to the election of a new party chairman last month. They were described as “slanderous attacks” in a message sent last month by GOP officials to state Central Committee members that also alleged the emails had been sent from accounts registered to Sonntag and her family.

The lawsuit asserts that neither Sonntag nor her family members were behind the emails and says the GOP’s claim that they were has caused her “personal humiliation, mental anguish and suffering.”

It also alleges some donors have suspended their ties with the New Mexico Business Coalition in response to the GOP’s claim.

“Republican Party of New Mexico leaders will regret careless assaults on pro-market activists who choose to stay out of party politics,” Sonntag said in a Wednesday statement.

An attorney for the state Republican Party said last week that the party had tried to resolve the dispute with Sonntag amicably, but would not say whether it stood by its claim that Sonntag or any of her relatives sent the anonymous emails.

In a Wednesday interview, John Anderson, the Republican Party attorney, said he had not seen the lawsuit and declined to comment on its allegations.

“We want to handle this in the court system and not in the media,” Anderson told the Journal.

In addition to other Republicans, the emails in question targeted Republican National Committeeman Harvey Yates Jr. and Ryan Cangiolosi, who was elected Dec. 11 as state party chairman.

They were sent unsigned, attributed only to Concerned Republicans for New Mexico and, in another case, New Mexico Republicans for Fiscal Responsibility.

After being singled out by the state GOP as the alleged source of the emails, Sonntag said she would file suit unless Republican Party officials retracted their claim, apologized and provided her with research the party said it had done.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified punitive damages, in addition to a court order barring the state Republican Party from further linking Sonntag to the emails.