Saturday, November 13, 2004
Voter Education Ads Defended
By David Miles
Journal Capitol Bureau
SANTA FE Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron on Friday defended her decision to spend nearly $2 million on radio and television ads explaining how New Mexicans could register for and vote in the Nov. 2 general election.
Vigil-Giron said the federal Help America Vote Act required her to spend the money on voter education programs before the election.
The Democratic secretary of state said Republican attacks of her decision were politically motivated.
"If they have a problem with seeing my mug on television, well, then that's their problem," Vigil-Giron said.
Earlier this week, state Rep. Brian Moore, R-Clayton, wrote a letter to Vigil-Giron requesting documents detailing the advertising expenditures. The letter also said the television ads were intended to enhance Vigil-Giron's "name recognition."
"In essence, you put your own political career ahead of the interests of the voting public," the letter said.
Vigil-Giron on Friday said she would comply with Moore's records request. She said she mentioned her name twice in the 30-second television ads and four times in the 60-second radio ads in case voters tuned in during the middle of an ad.
The secretary of state said she hired A. Gutierrez and Associates, an Albuquerque-based marketing firm, to produce the ads and buy air time for them.
Vigil-Giron said the company recommended that she appear in the ads because she is the state's top election official.
The ads ran in English, Spanish and Navajo and helped result in a record turnout of an estimated 420,000 New Mexicans who voted early or with an absentee ballot, Vigil-Giron said.
Vigil-Giron said her office did not have the time or expertise needed to produce the ads. And free air time for public service announcements during prime time likely would not have been available during campaign season, she said.
The advertising money is part of $19 million in federal funds that the state received under the Help America Vote Act, Vigil-Giron said.
New Mexico already has spent $5 million on an electronic voter registration system, she said. Vigil-Giron said most of the remaining money will pay for roughly 1,600 new voting machines across the state.
Funds also may be used for poll-worker training and more voter education programs, Vigil-Giron said.