How far can you allow a negative or “attack ad” campaign to go before it begins to hinder a fair election? At what point does “selective truth telling” become defamation?
That’s the question being asked in a lawsuit filed by a mayoral candidate in the small city of Prescott, Arizona. The candidate, who is vying for the position against two other candidates, is up against some heavy hitters — including a well-known political consultant, his firm and a supposedly independent “Voter Education Project” that’s actually a non-profit organization run by the same consultant for the purposes of skirting election laws designed at limiting campaign donations by individual donors. Organizations like those then keep their donors’ names secret through a loophole that applies to non-profit organizations.
These “dark money” operations present themselves to unwary voters as unbiased sources of political information about the local candidates, while putting out selective information that’s bought and paid for by one candidate or another’s supporters.
In this case, the so-called “Voter Education” organization has selectively lifted language from public records that were a decade old. The wording, taken from an old insurance claim and a medical lien, portray her in an intentionally false light as an untrustworthy tax cheat.
Defamation lawsuits are a type of personal injury claim and are often a last resort when it comes to stopping a verbal campaign of misinformation, which is called slander, or written misinformation, which is called libel. They can be hard for political candidates to pursue because people in the public eye by choice, especially in politics, are often expected to put up with more outrageous behavior than private citizens.
However, there are lines that can’t be crossed. If the statements made against the candidate are only a matter of subjective opinion or factual, she can’t prove defamation. If she can prove that the statements are taken so far out of context that they constitute a falsehood, she can be successful.
As for the political consultant’s vehicle of choice for disseminating information? It’s already lost its non-profit status for some shady actions of its own — like failing to file required tax returns.
If you’ve been the victim of defamation, consider contacting a civil litigation attorney for assistance.
Source: The Republic, “Prescott mayoral candidate sues prominent consultant, alleges defamation,” Craig Harris, Aug. 04, 2017