HOUSTON, Texas–Attorney General candidate and former AFL-CIO union group lobbyist Dan Branch came under increased fire for a campaign ad he recently televised. The ad appears to somewhat deceptively attempt to give viewers the impression that the entire ad itself is an actual news broadcast. The usage of the news clips the ad was composed of brought quick rebuke from the station the actual clips came from–as the Branch campaign used them without the permission of the television station.
The ad, shown below, opens with NBC KXAS news anchor Bianca Castro reading a news report about Ken Paxton’s administrative paperwork issue where Paxton paid a $1,000 administrative fine. Of course, the Branch campaign presented the paperwork issue as if it were a larger legal matter.
NBC responded to what they claimed was misuse of its brand, images and audio in a letter to Branch Campaign Manager, Enrique Marquez. The letter from NBC Vice President for Media Law, David N. Sternlicht, states, the ad “features extensive use of a copyrighted KXAS report and includes the voice and likeness KXAS anchor Bianca Castro. In fact, with the exception of two seconds of music at the beginning, the entire audio track of the commercial consists of the KXAS report. This use has been made without permission of KXAS or Ms. Castro,…”
NBC claims the advertisement deceptively represents that KXAS and Ms. Castro consented to the use of their video, the station’s brand and her image and voice.
“Aside from the copyright issues,” Sternlicht explained, “this is use of the voice of Ms. Castro and the KXAS logo exploits her and the journalistic credibility of KXAS.”
NBC requested the campaign stop using their intellectual property in the campaign ad and cease “any further dissemination of the commercial consisting almost entirely of the KXAS report.” The Branch campaign has not honored that request.
This is not the first time the Branch Campaign has had a problem regarding using someone’s likeness for political gain without their permission. Early on, the Branch Campaign website had a prominently displayed banner with the image of Ted Cruz stating “Top Ted Cruz advisors back Branch” with the implication being that Ted Cruz supports his campaign–which could not be further from the truth. That banner has since been removed from the website. In October, True the Vote and King Street Patriots founder Catherine Englebrecht also had to reprimand Branch’s campaign for implying an endorsement was made by her group. In response to Branch’s implying her endorsement, True the vote released a statement that reads, “We appreciate all good ideas on election integrity and voting policy regardless of the source. To confuse appreciation with a partisan endorsement demonstrates a misunderstanding of what a nonpartisan educational organization can do.”
Breitbart Texas reached out to the Branch campaign for comment on the issue. Enrique Marquez spoke for the campaign and would only say, “The ad about Ken Paxton breaking the law speaks for itself.” However, Breitbart Texas Managing Director Brandon Darby recently reached out to the campaign with questions for another article, largely pertaining to the Branch campaign using such language to describe opponent Ken Paxton in such drastic terms over a simple administrative paperwork issue. In that instance, the campaign was either unable to justify their rhetoric or they simply chose to avoid answering for another unknown reason.
In January, 2014, this reporter conducted an interview with Texas Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman about this very topic. Smitherman was then a candidate in the Primary Race for Attorney General. He finished third in that race and recently endorsed Branch’s campaign over Paxton. However, in that interview Smitherman stated that during the floor debate over a bill that would have required legislators to reveal their relationships with law firms in which they are a partner who represent clients before the legislature, Branch “killed this amendment which would’ve added more disclosure because I assume it would’ve directly affected him and his law firm and his partners and their ability to have lobby clients and educational lobby clients as well. This should not be accepted.”
Last week, the Texas Tribune drilled down into Branch’s efforts to avoid transparency in relation to lobbying activity. The Tribune states, “In a video recording of House proceedings, Branch, who at that time was also registered as a federal lobbyist for Winstead, voices concerns with the more robust disclosure, saying the amendment required transparency measures that were redundant.”
During the above mentioned debate with Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston), Branch said he was “generally” in favor of “reasonable” disclosure. Smitherman pointed out in the previous interview we conducted that the two qualifiers in that sentence. “Generally, which means not all the time, just sort of when I think it’s appropriate,” Smitherman said, “and reasonable, which is in the eyes of the beholder of what reasonable is. So by stringing the two together, that significantly waters down disclosure.”
The complaint from NBC comes at the same time a group of Texas conservative leaders issued a press release challenging Branch to explain his history as a Washington, D.C. lobbyist for an AFL-CIO union group. During the last session, Branch voted for a bill that would exempt labor unions from disclosing financial information while requiring conservative organizations to reveal their financial sources. The bill, SB 346, was passed by the Texas Legislature but was vetoed by Governor Rick Perry who said, “At a time when our federal government is assaulting the rights of Americans by using the tools of government to squelch dissent it is unconscionable to expose more Texans to the risk of such harassment, regardless of political, organizational or party affiliation.”
“Dan Branch’s credibility hangs by the barest thread. He voted to exempt labor unions from political disclosures while making conservative organizations disclose their donors. In light of this new information that Mr. Branch has been a Washington lobbyist for a labor union, Mr. Branch should explain why he did not recuse himself from that vote,” said Michelle Smith in the press release challenging Branch.
Cathie Adams also contributed to the press release and said, “Dan Branch’s vote for SB 346 was an unprecedented attempt to intimidate for purely political purposes. Branch’s newly discovered past as a labor lobbyist sheds important new light on this vote, and he should have disclosed this conflict of interest to voters.”
“Now that his background as a Washington labor lobbyist has emerged, it’s clear that Dan Branch had a clear conflict of interest in voting for SB 346,” JoAnn Fleming stated in the press release. “We’ve long known that conservatives can’t trust Dan Branch, and this episode underscores that fact.”
Branch denied voting to kill an amendment that would have removed the exemption for disclosure from labor unions at a meeting of the Northeast Tarrant Tea Party in April and said, “I voted against the exemptions for labor unions.” Michelle Smith corrects the record in the press release and states, “Barely two weeks ago, Rep. Branch stood before a tea party audience and deceived them about his voting record. The record shows he voted to kill the amendment which would have held labor unions to the same standards as conservative organizations, and of course he voted for the final bill.”
The Press Release from former Republican Party of Texas Chair and Texas Eagle Forum President Cathie Adams, Young Conservatives of Texas Chairman Jeff Morris, Grassroots American-We the People Executive Director JoAnn Fleming, and Concerned Women for America State Director Michelle Smith, is attached below.
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