Despite his win and law’s repeal, Dan Forest pushes lawsuit about campaign ads

Posted by John Frank on March 20, 2014 

Effective Jan. 1, the state’s pioneering “stand by your ad” law vanished from the books after lawmakers repealed the provision in a sweeping elections bill last session.

But a legal case heard in a Wake County courtroom this week is keeping the law alive for now.

Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest filed a lawsuit in December 2012 against the state employees association’s political action committee regarding television ads EMPAC aired in support of his Democratic opponent, Linda Coleman, during the fall campaign.

The lawsuit argues that the ads – which attacked Forest for “extreme politics” in October 2012 – did not contain the legally required disclosure because it lacked a photograph of the political advertiser.

EMPAC corrected the 30-second spot, adding a photo of Coleman and the association’s Dana Cope, within days of being notified by Republicans about the oversight. Forest’s campaign also filed a complaint at the time with the State Board of Elections.

Forest, who narrowly won the race, is asking a judge to declare the initial ads illegal. He is also seeking $78, 584 in damages under the now-defunct law, which is the amount EMPAC spent to put the ads on cable television before correcting them, said John Snyder, a Charlotte attorney representing Forest’s campaign committee.

In an affidavit, Forest affirmed that he authorized the lawsuit. His chief of staff referred questions to Snyder.

EMPAC, which is the political arm of the State Employees Association of North Carolina, went to Wake County Superior Court this week to ask Judge Robert Hobgood to dismiss the case. The judge is expected to issue a ruling by the end of the week.

In its motion, EMPAC’s attorney Amanda Martin casts the defense as a political free speech issue. She argues the requirement for a photograph of the ad’s sponsor is unconstitutional because it is a content-based regulation that does little to inform the public.

Tom Harris, a SEANC attorney, declined to comment on the case.

Snyder said he expects the judge to dismiss the motion. “This is always a high bar to overcome in a court of law, and it is why we feel strongly the judge will deny their request and allow the suit to proceed,” he said by email.

He continued, “The law was written to protect not just the candidates, but more importantly the general public. The public has a right to know who is paying for television commercials in political campaigns. When EMPAC failed to follow the disclosure laws, they denied the general public from this basic right.”

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