Billboard prompts false advertising charge
September 9, 2004
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., will not be prosecuted for his billboard along Highway 395 in Indian Hills that a Douglas County resident says is misleading.
“If I interpret that billboard correctly, it leads to an impression that he was of another party,” said Gardnerville resident George Abbott about Reid’s sign located in Indian Hills.
The 81-year-old said he believes the claim that Reid is “Independent like Nevada” is deceptive and may lead voters to believe he is not a Democrat.
“It’s his intention to show that he’s an Independent, and gain support from people. We have an awful lot of new people in this area and their first impression would be he’s an Independent.”
Abbott tried contacting Reid to get an explanation for the sign, but had no success contacting the senator.
“I wondered if Harry was a victim of somebody playing a harsh prank on him. I wanted to ask him if this was an intentional billboard of his.”
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Abbott, a former Republican state chairman, claims the sign violates Nevada Revised Statute, which makes publication of deceptive or misleading material a misdemeanor and punishable with up to a $2,500 fine.
Tessa Hafen, campaign spokeswoman and press secretary for Reid, said the sign is not misleading.
“Well, in response, there is no Independent party in Nevada. It’s a meaningless complaint.”
She said the billboard is meant to communicate the Senator’s mind set and character and not to deceive.
“Essentially, Sen. Reid was born and raised in Nevada and he knows how Nevadans think, and like Nevada, Sen. Reid is independent-minded,” she said.
Douglas County District Attorney Scott Doyle said Reid’s speech is not prosecutable under law because the language is political and not commercial.
“The deceptive advertising statute cited (in the sheriff’s report by the complaining citizen) applies to commercial transactions, not to political signs,” Doyle said. “Moreover, the billboard can be interpreted as describing a personality trait as opposed to a political party affiliation and where there are two explanations, you must choose the one consistent with innocence.”
If Abbott wants to pursue the complaint, Doyle said he can talk with the attorney general’s office. In the meantime, Doyle has sent a note to the sheriff’s office letting them know the investigation is concluded.
But Abbott said nearly 15,000 people commute north toward Carson City and see the sign, and when friends of his in Reno and Sparks told him of similar signs there, he took action.
“At the urging of people I talked with, I felt compelled to afford Harry Reid an opportunity to show the language he used, given his history (in the Senate), fell within criminal misdemeanor code.”
“I think if there’s any question about it, people can call the campaign office,” she said.
— Maggie O’Neill can be reached at mo’firstname.lastname@example.org or 782-5121, ext. 214.