SALT LAKE CITY — A couple who support Democratic Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams in the contentious 4th Congressional District race was distressed to see themselves in a TV commercial for his opponent, Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah.
And as the race heats up, McAdams faces his own accusation from a business association that he is making misleading statements about tax hikes.
Footage of the couple, Don and Marilyn Remington, shot for the mayor's 2016 re-election campaign, appeared at the start of the newest TV commercial from the two-term congresswoman labeling McAdams a "tax and spend Democrat."
The commercial, the first negative advertising of the campaign, shows the couple outside McAdams' orange campaign bus before shifting to an interior shot where passengers react with concern to critical statements about the mayor.
A lawyer representing the couple, Perrin Love, sent letters Thursday to TV stations and cable providers saying the couple was distressed by use of their likenesses without permission, calling it illegal and demanding the commercials be pulled.
The use of their likenesses, the lawyer said, "is not incidental, and falsely implies that the Remingtons want to get off the Ben Bus and do not support Ben McAdams for Congress. They remain enthusiastic McAdams supporters."
Love's campaign attorney, Matthew Sanderson, responded Thursday calling the objection to the use of the images "nothing more than a political ploy by the McAdams campaign and its allies to silence criticism."
Sanderson said the supporters make only a fleeting appearance in the commercial and are not identified, and are a model example of "incidental use" under a 1988 Utah Supreme Court ruling on a case involving an ad for Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
Love's campaign spokeswoman, Sasha Clark, said Friday that no station or cable outlet had stopped running the ad. The campaign is expected to begin airing a new spot on Tuesday.
Clark said it was "another desperate media circus attempt from the McAdams campaign as they are consistently behind in the polls and scrambling to distract" from his record.
McAdams' campaign manager, Andrew Roberts, said Friday the complaint was made by the Remingtons and that their attorney, Perrin Love, had "no connection whatsoever" to the campaign.
Roberts said McAdams "was disappointed to see that the Love campaign used them, without their consent, to run misleading ads against him. He is grateful they stood up to this negative Washington, D.C., tactic."
The flap comes on the heels of a news release from the Utah Taxpayers Association describing claims made in a McAdams' TV commercial that he worked with Republicans to lower the county tax rate every year.
The business-oriented association, headed by state Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, called the claim misleading, citing a 2015 decision that didn't allow property tax rates to decrease as much as they could have under the truth in taxation law.
McAdams' campaign says the rate was still lower than the previous year.
Billy Hesterman, the association's vice president, said Love's claims in her current TV commercial that McAdams repeatedly supported higher taxes was not part of the analysis because the mayor's claim "stood out the most to us."
Hesterman said the association was "not going to pick sides in the race" and may consider looking at statements Love has made about taxes. He said the analysis was done as a reminder the association is "trying to be a watchdog on taxes."
Roberts said McAdams "lowered the tax rate every year since taking office in 2013" while balancing the county budget with the Republican-majority Salt Lake County Council.
Clark said the association "is an independent, respected institution making valid points about Ben's multiple tax increases." The association also referenced a 0.25 percent sales tax increase for transportation backed by the county.