Source: News Week, BY
ust weeks away from the midterms, the campaign of Andrew Gillum, the Democratic Party’s candidate for Florida governor, is fighting back against an attack ad from Republican opponent Ron DeSantis that it calls “false”, “malicious” and “defamatory.” Sending a cease and desist letter to TV stations across the state on Thursday, Gillum’s campaign demanded the ad be taken off the airwaves, claiming it was “libel and slander of the worst sort.” If stations fail to do so, the campaign threatened further legal recourse would be taken.
“The advertisement intentionally misstates and contorts facts in the source material, while omitting facts contained in that same material that are contrary to the false statements made in the advertisement,” the letter said, written by Tallahassee attorney Glenn Burhans, Jr. “This letter shall serve as notice that any further publication or rebroadcast of the advertisement by you will be intentional and made with actual knowledge of the maliciously false and defamatory statements contained therein.”
Gillum’s campaign alleged the 30-second ad, paid for by the Florida GOP and endorsed by DeSantis, is “demonstrably false in numerous respects and has been made with actual malice.”
“It is abundantly clear that Congressman DeSantis is a liar who has no respect for Floridians and no positive vision for our state,” said communications director Johanna Cervone in a statement provided to Newsweek. “His latest attack ad is indicative of a candidate with no moral compass who has resorted to desperate and dirty lies in order to score political points during a natural disaster.”
The Florida GOP, DeSantis’s campaign and Burhans Jr. did not respond to Newsweek’s questions on Thursday.
The letter stated there were four parts of the ad that were either misleading or outright false.
The first was audio stating “Andrew Gillum is running for Governor and also from the FBI,” combined with the text “Andrew Gillum FBI Investigation.” The campaign said it implies Gillum is the subject of an FBI investigation, which he is not.
However, Gillum is the subject of an ethics investigation by the Florida Commission on Ethics for past vacations he took to Costa Rica and New York City. During those trips, the Tallahassee mayor met with lobbyist friends and, unbeknownst to him, undercover FBI agents posing as businessmen. The FBI agents’ presence was reportedly part of its probe into public corruption in Tallahassee. Although Gillum has been questioned by the FBI about these trips and his past business relationships, he has not been named in any subpoenas or accused by the agency of wrongdoing.
The second quarrel the letter mentioned was the ad’s text stating “illegal trips with lobbyists.” The campaign said that while those trips are under an ethics investigation, a “mere complaint is not an adjudication of any violation.” The letter categorized the ad’s allegation of illegal trips as “defamatory.”
The ad’s statement that “Gillum refuses to disclose who’s paid him” was the third part said to be false by the Gillum campaign. Its letter read that the DeSantis ad “falsely” claimed Gillum “accepted or was otherwise paid money” on his trips. While the campaign did release some of its financial records surrounding the trips under ethical scrutiny, the Politico story referenced in the campaign’s cease and desist letter highlighted key parts of the trip that have not been explained how they were funded.
The letter’s fourth and final claim was that the ad’s concluding argument that Gillum is “corrupt” was again defamatory.
“The advertisement is emblematic of the corrosive and divisive rhetoric tearing our society apart,” the letter said. “And the fact that it is being run in the midst of a devastating hurricane is reprehensible.”
The Gillum campaign ended its cease and desist letter with a stern warning to the TV stations on the receiving end. Newsweek reached out to the Gillum campaign about how many broadcast stations the letter was sent to, but the campaign did not respond.
“Regardless of whether you believe that you have a meritorious defense to broadcast the advertisement, as a matter of ethics and common decency, your station should decline to traffic in such shameful, false and malicious advertising,” the letter said. “Your viewers, and shareholders, deserve better.”
In response to the ad, the Gillum campaign released a new one of its own Thursday afternoon. Featuring five sheriffs from across the state, the law enforcement officials called DeSantis’s attack ads “false, pathetic and just not true.”
“As mayor of Tallahassee, Andrew Gillum fought corruption,” the sheriffs said. “And Gillum’s working with law enforcement and the FBI to crack down on politicians who break the law.”
DeSantis came under fire in recent days for running a different attack ad that alleged Gillum, as Tallahassee mayor, did not properly cooperate with utility companies to provide assistance to residents after Hurricane Hermine in 2016. The ad, rated as “mostly false” by PolitiFact, continued to run even as Hurricane Michael pounded the Florida panhandle on Wednesday with more than 150 mile per hour winds.