Just two weeks before Election Day, five Republicans ― Reps. Bob Dold (R-Ill.), Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), David Jolly (R-Fla.), John Katko (R-N.Y.) and Brian Fitzpatrick, a Pennsylvania Republican running for an open seat that’s currently occupied by his brother ― contend that certain commercials paid for by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee provide false or misleading information by connecting them to the GOP nominee.
Trump is so terrible, these Republicans are essentially arguing, that tying them to him amounts to defamation.
All five Republicans have, at some point, said they don’t support Trump. And all five have a bit of a case: The DCCC ads do use some creativity to tie them to Trump.
It’s somewhat standard practice for candidates to threaten TV stations with legal action in an effort to get ads pulled. The Federal Communications Commission has said that stations have some legal responsibility ― when dealing with ads from independent groups ― to eliminate ads with “false, misleading, or deceptive” content. But legal action is rare. Mostly, candidates count on TV stations to take down such ads.
The DCCC says none of the stations pulled the spots, though some ads’ runs have already ended.
Either way, the ads all leave an impression that the candidate they’re targeting supports Trump, even when the candidate himself has said otherwise. Whether that’s misleading enough for legal action is someone else’s call.
The commercials all use different means to make the same point: In Jolly’s case, the ad asks voters to “imagine” Trump as president with Jolly supporting him, providing some roughly manipulated pictures of the two together to help fill in the blanks. Jolly’s lawyers say the commercial is “patently false,” telling a local Florida station that just because the ad includes the words “dramatization” doesn’t mean it can display “fraudulent images.”
The ad targeting Katko uses footage from May of the candidate saying he “absolutely will support” the GOP’s eventual nominee. But Katko’s lawyer says he “has never and does not currently” support Trump. He calls the ad “blatantly false.”
The other cases are similar.
The DCCC ties Coffman to Trump by showing him questioning whether President Barack Obama was born in the United States. (Coffman’s lawyer takes issue with the ad’s assertion that his client supports Trump, which is sourced to a February report in which Coffman said he’d support the eventual Republican nominee. Yet there’s a lengthy record of Coffman criticizing Trump.)
Coffman, who sent two letters over two different ads, also takes issue with a second ad stating that “Coffman said he’d support Trump for president.” Coffman’s lawyer says that claim is “false and defamatory,” an indication of just how damaging supporting Trump can be in Coffman’s Latino-heavy district.
“Over the last two election cycles, Nancy Pelosi and her SuperPac have spent millions of dollars trying to smear Mike’s record. It didn’t work then and it won’t work now,” said Coffman campaign spokeswoman Cinamon Watson.
Dold demanded the removal of an ad that claimed he was privately raising money to defeat Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. The DCCC was referencing an event Dold headlined called “Beat Hillary at the Distillery.” Dold says the money only went to local candidates.
Fitzpatrick has also had his lawyer draft a cease and desist letter, taking issue with an ad that says the candidate “supports Donald Trump and his dangerous agenda for women.” While Fitzpatrick doesn’t refute claims that he wants to defund Planned Parenthood, his lawyer said that branding him as a Trump supporter threatens “substantial and immediate harm to the campaign and Mr. Fitzpatrick’s personal reputation.”
Dold, Jolly, Katko and Fitzpatrick did not immediately respond to request for comment from The Huffington Post.