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Legal Threats Fly Over Justin Fareed Campaign Ad Targeting Salud Carbajal’s Lompoc ‘Armpit’ Comment

The controversy over Democratic congressional candidate Salud Carbajal calling Lompoc the “armpit” of Santa Barbara County has escalated into legal threats and become a campaign issue as he and Republican Justin Fareed race to win the seat held by retiring Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara.

Justin Fareed Click to view larger
Justin Fareed
Salud Carbajal Click to view larger
Salud Carbajal

Carbajal, 51, is in his third term on the count Board of Supervisors, and Fareed, 28, helps run his family’s sports medical device company and previously worked on Capitol Hill as a legislative aide to former Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky.

They were the top two vote-getters in the nine-candidate primary in June, and now face off in one of the most heavily funded congressional races in the country in the Nov. 8 election.

The comment, which Carbajal’s campaign says was a joke between him and a friend, reportedly was overheard by Lompoc City Councilman Jim Mosby at a September meeting of the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments.

“The bottom line is this is completely a private joke to someone who lives in Lompoc who is a friend of his,” said Tess Whittlesey, a Carbajal campaign spokeswoman.

The comment — reportedly something to the effect of “how do you like living in the armpit of the county?” — prompted opinion pieces, letters to the editor in local media, and a protest outside Carbajal’s campaign office in downtown Santa Barbara, after which his campaign released an apology.

“Mr. Carbajal apologizes for the off-hand remark about Lompoc and is proud of the work he’s done for the city of Lompoc, including securing county and federal funding for the Lompoc Veterans Building for community use,” the campaign said in a statement at the time.

“Salud Carbajal has been involved in providing funding for critical infrastructure projects in the Lompoc area, and will continue to be an advocate for policies that benefit working and middle-class families, and will partner with the Lompoc community to better represent them.”

Last week, the Fareed campaign released a television ad focused on the comment, calling Carbajal a “stale career politician” and an “elitist insider.”

KEYT News coverage of the comment was used in the 30-second ad, including a clip of anchor C.J. Ward explaining the controversy, which prompted KEYT to announce it was sending a cease-and-desist letter to Fareed’s campaign.

The broadcast clip was used without permission and “undermines the trust KEYT has built with its viewers,” KEYT general manager Mark Danielson wrote in the Sept. 28 letter.

“Maintaining the objectivity of its news operations is of the utmost importance to KEYT,” the letter says. “For this reason, KEYT does not support or oppose any candidate for office in this election cycle.

“The use of KEYT’s news story and its anchor in this political advertisement gives viewers the false impression that KEYT supports Fareed and opposes Carbajal — which is not the case.”

If the campaign doesn’t stop using the voice and likeness of Ward, “KEYT may take appropriate legal action to protect its rights,” according to Danielson’s letter.

Fareed’s campaign will not pull the ad, campaign manager Christiana Purves said.

“We commend KEYT on their coverage of Salud Carbajal referring to Lompoc as the armpit of the county,” she said in a statement. “It is shameful when candidates for office stoop this low, and the citizens of Lompoc are still waiting for a personal apology from Carbajal.

“Our campaign is well within its legal right to use footage of a news broadcast outlining Carbajal’s offensive comments, in which he refers to Lompoc as the armpit of the county.

“We look forward to a spirited debate on Oct. 16 on KEYT television, and perhaps Carbajal will use this forum as an opportunity to personally apologize to the citizens of Lompoc for referring to their city as the armpit of the county.”

On behalf of the Fareed campaign, Sacramento-based political and election law attorney Charles H. Bell Jr. sent a letter to KEYT defending use of the clip.

“The use of a brief segment of your news report, which does not use KEYT’s trademark or logo, constitutes a ‘fair use’ of copyrighted material for political purposes expressly permitted by copyright law and case law,” he wrote.

“The segment in no way states or implies that KEYT has endorsed any candidate in the 24th Congressional District race, and thus these claims are simply incorrect.”

The letter asks for retractions and corrections in two KEYT stories, saying one that reports on Danielson’s letter wrongly states that the Fareed campaign ad is illegal, and another “falsely implies” that it was Fareed who overheard the armpit comment by saying the remarks were “overheard by an opponent.”

After the television advertisement was released, Carbajal released a statement as well.

“I am proud of the work I have done on behalf of the community of Lompoc, including securing funding for the Veterans Community Center and for critical infrastructure projects in the area,” he said.

“Most recently, I visited the community in the wake of the devastating Canyon Fire to thank our firefighters for their brave work to combat the blaze. I will continue to partner with and advocate for the Lompoc community in Congress.

“My opponent’s latest ad does a disservice to viewers by including only a small part of KEYT’s reporting without their permission and without context.”

Carbajal and Fareed are scheduled to participate in a live debate Oct. 16 on KEYT and KCOY, and another debate on Oct. 20 on KSBY.

The 24th District is a traditionally Democratic district but has become more evenly divided after redistricting.

As of July, according to the California Secretary of State’s Office, 39.57 percent of 24th District voters are registered as Democrats to 33.14 percent registered as Republicans. Another 22.24 percent list no party preference.

Capps has held the seat since 1998, and the open race has attracted hundreds of thousands of dollars in outside spending, mostly from partisan political action committees.

The latest campaign finance report is due Oct. 15 for the period ending Sept. 30, and the latest numbers show Carbajal raising $2.2 million to Fareed’s $1.3 million.

As of Monday, outside groups had spent $814,028 supporting Carbajal (including the House Majority PAC) and $314,160 opposing him (including the National Republican Congressional Committee).

Groups spent $332,397 supporting Fareed (including Citizen Super PAC) and $257,955 opposing him (including House Majority PAC), according to ProPublica’s Election DataBot that tracks real-time campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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