A Santee billboard advising motorists that Rep. Duncan D. Hunter is under criminal investigation has been rejected for its original location.
But the Indivisible group behind the sign persisted and a crowdfunding effort found another billboard company and a nearby venue.
After seeing a Channel 10 report Wednesday, the billboard company said: “Oh, no, no, no. We can’t do this, we can’t do that,” Hughes said.
She said Clear Channel rejected the phrase “Shame on,” didn’t want dollar signs over the GOP congressman’s eyes and eventually barred use of his picture and the phrase “under criminal investigation.”
“So there wasn’t much left after that,” Hughes told Times of San Diego in a phone interview.
Clear Channel representatives did not respond to requests for comment.
Hughes said Lamar Advertising has signed a contract to show the sign about 3 1/2 miles away* — near Winter Gardens Boulevard overlooking state Route 67 on the Santee-Lakeside border.
“They weren’t comfortable with the shaming part,” she said of Lamar, wanting a “more factual” message. So the phrase was changed from “Shame on” to “Did you know.”
“We were fine with whatever guidelines are appropriate,” Hughes said. “What we weren’t willing to do is remove his face or the statement about the criminal investigation — since that was the whole point.”
Hunter’s use of campaign funds for personal use had been questioned by ethics watchdogs and was the subject of dozens of news stories, especially by The San Diego Union-Tribune.
At a Ramona Town Hall in March, the five-term Republican said he had paid back more than $60,000 wrongly charged to his campaign credit card — “and I take responsibility for it. I fixed it, and as far as I am concerned, end of story.”
In a statement to Channel 10 News, Hunter’s office said: “Frankly, a billboard or any advertising doesn’t change the fact that Rep. Hunter is effective and continues to have strong and wide support.”
Hughes said marketing professional Santana Inniss devised the billboard plan, and launched fund-raising efforts on youcaring.com. (Another local activist designed the billboard, but didn’t want her name disclosed.)
But when Inniss couldn’t reach a goal of $7,000 via Facebook sharing alone, a Twitter campaign began.
“And we started promoting it last weekend on Twitter,” Hughes said. “Within five days, we had the money.”
Lamar is charging $6,900 for five weeks’ display, she said.
Hughes isn’t surprised that San Antonio-based Clear Channel would bar the Hunter billboard.
In a press statement, Hughes said: “We are concerned that Clear Channel’s political preferences may have impacted its decision to reject our message. The company’s leaders have a long history of generous support for Republicans. We are willing to work within legal guidelines but must preserve our freedom of speech and the integrity of our message.”
But a PAC operated by IHeartMedia and Clear Channel nearly split its donations in 2016 to federal candidates — with $184,500 going to Republicans and $173,500 to Democrats, according to opensecrets.org. Hunter has received no money from this political action committee.
Indivisible members in Hunter’s 50th Congressional District of East and North San Diego County were surveyed on what the sign should address.
“Should it be about health care? Or should it be about the FBI investigation? The members thought that starting with an initial education about the fact that Hunter was under investigation would be the … place to start,” Hughes said.
The point of the project?
“Many people in 50 don’t realize that Duncan Hunter is the son and not the father,” Hughes said. “When he was growing up as a young man, his name was Duncan Duane Hunter, but … they called him Duane. People who went to school with him referred to him as Duane.”
For voters who weren’t aware that Hunter succeeded his father, Duncan Lee Hunter, in 2009, “that was why it was important to put his photo on, to show a younger man.”
Hughes, who lives outside the 50th District near the coast, noted the U-T having covered the Hunter spending story “pretty extensively.” But “not everybody reads the Union-Tribune, obviously.”
Thus the idea for “basic voter education — that this is not the father … and he’s under criminal investigation by the FBI.”
“It’s not the kind of integrity that people expect from a Marine veteran,” she said.
The sign is expected to go up June 12, Hughes said. “But we’ll see if anything happens between now and then.”
*An earlier version of this story said the sign was less than a mile away.