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Former TV weatherman and failed NM gov candidate sues campaign consultants for hurting his job prospects

New Mexico Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Ronchetti on Aug. 14, 2022 at a political rally in Carlsbad, N.M.
Jessica Onsurez
Carlsbad Current-Argus
New Mexico Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Ronchetti on Aug. 14, 2022 at a political rally in Carlsbad, N.M.

Two-time Republican candidate for New Mexico office Mark Ronchetti hasn’t been heard from much since losing the governor’s race to Michelle Lujan Grisham in November. But now, the Santa Fe Reporter’s Andrew Oxford reports, the former TV meteorologist is involved in a lawsuit related to that 2022 campaign as well as his failed 2020 bid for U.S. Senate.

ANDREW OXFORD: He's suing a company called Go Big Media, which is based in Virginia and works on the campaigns of Republican candidates around the country. He hired the firm to work on the website for his 2020 Senate run and campaign for governor in 2022. But he says the company bungled the launch of those websites, hurting his campaign and hurting his job prospects.

KUNM: Okay, and what does Ronchetti say went wrong exactly with the website launch for his 2020 Senate campaign?

OXFORD: So, at the time, remember he was a weatherman on KRQE. And he says he'd agreed to leave his job on January 6, 2020, as he was getting ready to jump into the race. But he says the website for his Senate campaign went live that very night before he'd made a formal announcement about running. Now, he lost that race and he went back to KRQE.

KUNM: And now, he was on the weather side of things, he was their chief meteorologist, but generally people who work for news agencies would be barred from running for office. Do we know what his agreement with KRQE News 13 was before this website went live before it was supposed to?

OXFORD: No, but remember, he went back to KRQE after he ran for Senate and that wasn't without controversy. There were a lot of folks who looked at the fact that he was widely expected to run for office again, also showing up on TV every night, right? And I think that sat really badly with a lot of folks, that he was going back and forth from one sort of role to the next.

KUNM: And despite jumping the gun on going live with his 2020 Senate campaign site, you report Ronchetti rehired this Go Big Media to do his site for his bid for governor two years later, just last year. That campaign is also part of this suit. What does he take issue with there?

OXFORD: He says the campaign website went live again before he had announced he was running or had even made a final decision about whether he would run for governor. But the website caught the eye of political reporters and he says he was forced to abruptly leave KRQE as a result of all of this.

KUNM: Is the subtext there that the website being published forced him into the race?

OXFORD: I don't know that it was surprising that Ronchetti was running, but it is a remarkable line in this lawsuit that we're seeing now months after the election — that he hadn't made up his mind yet when we saw this website go live, and when he left KRQE. It's a pretty remarkable point of this whole case.

KUNM: Yeah, no doubt. So, the website launched early in both campaigns, as far as Ronchetti is claiming in his lawsuit. What is he seeking in the suit in terms of damages or what have you?

OXFORD: The lawsuit doesn't mention a particular amount of money, but he is asking for damages. Again, saying that all this hurt his campaign, hurt his career. He accuses Go Big Media of unfair trade practices, breach of contract and negligence.

KUNM: And do we know how much Ronchetti paid the firm for their work on his two campaign websites?

OXFORD: His campaign reported paying the company over $400,000 for its work on his Senate race, and that included money not just for the website, but also for services like digital advertising. But, interestingly, I can't find any record of his gubernatorial campaign paying the firm last year. So, we don't really have an insight into how much money might have been spent or talked about for this company's work on his two different races.

KUNM: And, you know, we haven't heard much of anything from Ronchetti since he lost the governor's race last year. And, unlike after his 2020 Senator race, he has not returned to New Mexican's television screens as a weatherman for KRQE. Is there any sense of what's next for the former candidate?

OXFORD: You know, I don't know. There's of course a Senate race next year but, so far, Ronchetti is 0-for-2 in statewide races and I have to wonder if this signals he's not thinking about a future race. It's not uncommon to see candidates have a falling out with their strategist or their consultants, but I also don't think politicians love having public fights in court with the people they've relied on in the past to try and win campaigns. Politics is a business for the people who work in politics and it's a business that's built on reputation. So, you know, damaging that reputation can really hurt.

Nash Jones (they/them) is a general assignment reporter in the KUNM newsroom and the local host of NPR's All Things Considered (weekdays on KUNM, 5-7 p.m. MT). You can reach them at nashjones@kunm.org or on Twitter @nashjonesradio.
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