Provided Image, Club for Growth
The fierce race between U.S. Senate hopefuls Evan McMullin and Mike Lee, the incumbent seeking a third term, is going to court.
The McMullin campaign on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against the Club for Growth over a political spot it created and aired to promote Lee’s candidacy, calling the ad “fraudulent” and defamatory. Club for Growth, a conservative political action committee, doctored footage of comments made in 2017 by McMullin “with the specific intent of twisting his words into a statement he never said and didn’t ever wanted to convey,” the lawsuit states.
The campaign is also suing three Salt Lake City TV stations it says aired the ad — Fox 13, owned by Scripps Media; KTVX, an ABC subsidiary owned by Nexstar Media; and KUTV, a CBS affiliate owned by the Sinclair Television Group. The McMullin campaign filed the lawsuit in Salt Lake County 3rd District Court.
The ad plays what the McMullin campaign says is a doctored sound of independent hope saying, “The Republican base is racist…Those fanatics.” In response, three women in the ad then offer their critical take on McMullin, using the apparently doctored comments as a springboard.
“The soundbite used is spliced and diced to make it sound like Evan said something he just never did. It is doctored with the intent to divide and deceive. Full stop,” McMullin campaign manager Andrew Roberts said in a statement.
Representatives of Club For Growth and the three TV stations did not immediately respond to questions from the standard reviewer seeking comment and none have yet responded to the complaint. KSL, an NBC affiliate in Salt Lake City, pulled the ad in question ahead of trial after the McMullin campaign contacted broadcast officials.
A representative for Lee did not comment on the content in question, but noted bans on contact between candidates and political action committees like Club for Growth.
“Coordination between a campaign and a political action committee is prohibited by the Federal Election Commission. Our campaign has no control over the content of the message or how it is used,” the Lee campaign said.
The turn of events underscores the intense electoral fight between Lee, a Republican, and McMullin, a former Central Intelligence Agency operative who also advised Congress on national security issues. McMullin led an unsuccessful independent presidential bid in 2016, dragged into the race by his distaste for then-nominee Donald Trump, and unease with the more extreme elements of the Republican and Democratic parties appears to be central to his candidacy .
According to the lawsuit, McMullin’s audio used to create the Club For Growth ad was apparently from a 2017 CNN panel discussion he attended that focused on the rally earlier that year in Charlottesville, in Virginia, by white supremacists. The violent rally left a woman dead.
In identifying the source of the Club For Growth ad audio, the suit specifically pointed to McMullin’s comments referring to “elements” of the Republican Party who attack other party leaders who make statements against the racism.
“Not all Republicans are of course racist,” McMullin said in the CNN segment, according to the lawsuit. “I was raised by Republicans, who are not Republicans at all, and we welcome Americans from all walks of life and are not like that at all…but there is an element of the Republican base that is racist. And our leaders are afraid to stand up to them because if they do, they will be criticized and they will potentially lose votes.
In the lawsuit, the McMullin campaign seeks unspecified damages, but not less than $300,000, the threshold for a Tier 3 case, an injunction stopping the running of the ad in question, and costs associated with the ‘affair.