Democratic congressional candidate Janice Hahn has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission over a widely criticized hip-hop-themed video that links her to street-gang members.
That ad, which makes rampant use of stereotypical hip-hop video imagery and features Hahn’s face superimposed onto the body of a stripper, was produced by a new third-party political action committee called Turn Right USA.
Hahn’s complaint alleges Turn Right is working with the campaign of Hahn’s challenger in the race in California’s 36th Congressional District, Republican Craig Huey.
Huey’s camp has denounced the ad, as have other Republicans, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and advocacy groups such as the National Organization for Women.
Hahn, a Los Angeles City Council member, and Huey are competing to replace retired Rep. Jane Harman in the Southern California coastal district. The election is July 12.
Her complaint notes that a one-time volunteer for Huey, G. Rick Marshall, is a principal working for Turn Right, a so-called “Super PAC” that can raise unlimited funds from donors whose identities remain private.
FEC rules prohibit such committees from coordinating their efforts directly with political campaigns.
The video contains a disclaimer that the PAC isn’t affiliated with the Huey campaign, and the filmmaker behind the ad, Ladd Ehlinger Jr., said there’s no connection. In fact, Ehlinger said Huey was missing an opportunity to use the ad, which ties Hahn to an L.A. County gang intervention program, to his advantage.
“What they should have done is say ‘We denounce the ad but we think it has a kernel of truth,’” Ehlinger said.
Ehlinger said the controversy, as well as the FEC complaint, was playing right into his hands—racheting up interest in the video, which has already enjoyed about half a million hits on YouTube.
“When I do a viral ad, it’s not about making a crazy ad and sticking it out there,” he said. “It’s about sitting down and figuring out how everybody is going to react to it.”
Ehlinger, who on his website likens himself to famous directors such as Sam Peckinpah and Orson Welles, was the man behind the widely viewed ads for Dale Peterson, who last year ran for agriculture commissioner in Alabama. (He lost.)
He said Turn Right was formed to go after “people that despise liberty.”
“I’ve got my eye on a couple Republicans too, man,” he said.
The Hahn ad has been labeled by some as the most offensive political ad of all time. The gold standard in that regard remains the 2006 ad in the Tennessee Senate race between Bob Corker and Harold Ford, which played on racial prejudices about black men and white women.