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Campaign consultant, TV ad, draw fire in City Council races

Wednesday, April 30, 2008 by Austin Monitor

A staff photographer for the Austin Chronicle says he will be speaking with a lawyer to find out what rights he may exercise since his copyrighted photo of Place 1 challenger Jason Meeker has been used without his permission in a TV spot put up by a business owner who is angry at the City Council.


Also angry and not keeping it a secret is Place 1 incumbent Lee Leffingwell.


John Anderson, staff photographer for the Austin Chronicle, said he had indirectly received assurances on Monday that the photo would no longer appear in the television ad, which was financed by Rick Culleton, owner of Discount Electronics.


Anderson said the assurances came from Jason Stanford, who was a political consultant for Meeker until the end of March and for Place 3 challenger Randi Shade in January. Stanford is now working for Culleton—Meeker’s former campaign treasurer. Meeker is running against Leffingwell.


The photographer was upset on Tuesday because he saw the same ad—with his copyrighted photo of Meeker—still running on television. The ad slams incumbents Leffingwell and Jennifer Kim and endorses the candidacy of Meeker and Shade.


Meeker and Shade have denied any involvement or prior knowledge of those ads.


Leffingwell said in a prepared statement, “The fact that Jason Meeker’s former campaign manager has been working with Jason Meeker’s former campaign treasurer to run a $20,000 negative campaign benefiting Jason Meeker makes a mockery of Austin‘s campaign finance laws.” 


Leffingwell added, “I don’t think anyone would believe that Jason Stanford and Rick Culleton quit Jason Meeker’s campaign on one day only to decide to run an expensive negative campaign benefiting Jason Meeker on the next day.”

Meeker said Stanford left his campaign because, “I felt like I could handle the running of this campaign since I ran the RG4N” campaign against Wal-Mart. He added that he wanted to “conserve my funds …he hasn’t been my campaign manager for well over a month.”


Culleton has paid for advertising running quite regularly on News 8 Austin. The Leffingwell campaign says Culleton paid $17,000 for 900 spots, but no official Time-Warner spokesperson was available to confirm the amount Tuesday.


Meeker said, “I would like to be considered an innocent bystander caught in the line of fire. I’m very happy that someone feels passionately enough to get involved … (but) my concern is that it is done legally.”


Shade also released a statement, “My campaign manager retained Jason Stanford in January to assist with a research project, and although I have never personally met or talked with Mr. Stanford, I am uncomfortable that he has a past association with my campaign while now apparently directing Mr. Culleton’s independent effort. As such, while I appreciate Mr. Culleton’s support, I am making a public appeal to request that he and Mr. Stanford please discontinue their campaign on my behalf.  It’s critically important that voters trust my integrity, and any appearance of a link between my campaign and their independent effort is unacceptable to me.  I will also be returning Mr. Culleton’s unsolicited campaign contribution.”

Kim campaign consultant Elliott McFadden, commented, “Rick Culleton has shown a history of violating campaign finance laws and getting the facts wrong. We appreciate that Ms. Shade is asking Mr. Culleton to end his misleading campaign.”


Former political consultant Mike Blizzard filed a complaint with the Texas Ethics Commission over Culleton’s first ad in the Austin Chronicle. Stanford did not return a call seeking comment and Culleton has previously refused to speak with In Fact Daily.

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