Local Politics

Ad agency denies ‘duping’ N.C. congressional contender

Posted November 2, 2010 6:37 a.m. EDT
Updated November 2, 2010 2:48 p.m. EDT

— An advertising company hired to produce an ad for a North Carolina congressional candidate denies that it deceived the campaign into believing actor Morgan Freeman would narrate it.

Benjamin Mathis, with Los Angeles-based MEI Political, released a statement Tuesday morning, saying he told Fourth District candidate B.J. Lawson’s campaign, both verbally and in writing, that the voice in the ad was not that of the Oscar-winning actor.

"We also informed the campaign that even though the ad was similar to Morgan Freeman in style or tone, the campaign should not represent it as the actor Morgan Freeman or as an endorsement by Mr. Freeman,” Mathis said.

Freeman said in a statement Monday that he never recorded any ads for Lawson and that he does not support Lawson's candidacy.

A neurosurgeon resident at Duke University, Lawson is facing Democratic incumbent David Price.

Lawson and campaign manager Martin Avila touted the use of Freeman in the ad. In an e-mail to supporters Monday, Avial wrote, "The Lawson for Congress campaign confirms that its latest radio and TV ad is indeed narrated by actor Morgan Freeman."

By Monday afternoon, Avila backed off that claim, but he produced a $4,500 contract that the campaign signed Oct. 28 for “one Morgan Freeman radio commercial.”

Contract between M.E.I. Political and Lawson campaign

The contract does not specify whether the narration would be from a voice double or Freeman. Mathis said he made it clear that a voice double would be used.

Avila said Tuesday said the campaign stands by Lawson’s claim that he was “duped” and that there is more paperwork and e-mails to support the claim.

“We just showed all our counsel everything, and they’re actually recommending that we go with some sort of criminal inquiry, at this point, because it’s just completely all over the road with all his claims,” Avila said.

“At this point, it’s just about getting out the truth,” he continued. “We were just duped. We were tricked. It’s really unfortunate.”

Those e-mails, released Tuesday by Lawson, appear to include excerpts of an Oct. 27 conversation between him and Mathis in which Mathis says he’s interested in recording an ad using the voice of actor John O’Hurley.

“Just let me know ASAP since I’ll already have him in studio,” Mathis wrote in an e-mail at 9:19 p.m. “I’ll also have Gerald McRaney, Morgan Freeman, Donald Sutherland, Kelsey Grammar, Ray Romano … later in the week. I might really get voters [sic] attention and some earned media in the final days of the campaign.”

In a message at 10:41 p.m., Lawson replied: “We’re scripting something for Mr. Freeman asap [sic]. Will be in touch shortly!”

At 10:50 p.m., Mathis wrote: “OK. Sounds good. Shall I email [sic] over an agreement? I can get him to record first thing in the morning.”

Mathis released an excerpt of an Oct. 12 e-mail to both Lawson’s and Price’s campaigns in which he expleained what a voice double is and that one would be used for Freeman.

“I'll also have the personal voice double[s] for Morgan Freeman (and others)…in studio recording ads for us,” he wrote.

Mathis shared an excerpt of the Oct. 12 message with WRAL News but would not allow the original e-mail to Lawson to be published.

“If there was ever any confusion on the part of the campaign as to whether or not this was Morgan Freeman, we made it abundantly clear in this e-mail and in our subsequent phone conversation that we were working with Mr. Freeman’s voice double, not Morgan Freeman,” Mathis said.

That e-mail was not included in e-mails Lawson released Tuesday. The campaign said it could not find the message.

“We sincerely want to believe that this was all a misunderstanding on the part of the Lawson campaign, rather than intentional effort by the campaign to misrepresent the ad we produced for them,” Mathis said.

“However, we regard the Lawson campaign’s statement that MEI Political in any way mislead [sic] the campaign or made any misrepresentation to the campaign as false and defamatory. We ask that the Lawson campaign issue an immediate apology and retraction.”