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McMullin campaign sues Club for Growth, calls political ad ‘fraudulent’

By Tim Vandenack - | Oct 4, 2022

Image supplied, Club for Growth

A screengrab from the Club For Growth ad targeting U.S. Senate hopeful Evan McMullin, focus of a suit McMullin filed Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022, in 3rd District Court in Salt Lake City.

The heated 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 suit against the Club for Growth over a political spot it created and is airing to promote the candidacy of Lee, calling the advertisement “fraudulent” and defamatory. Club for Growth, a conservative political action committee, doctored footage of comments made in 2017 by McMullin “with the specific intention of distorting his words into a statement that he never said and never meant to convey,” says the suit.

The campaign is also suing three Salt Lake City television stations that it says aired the ad — Fox 13, owned by Scripps Media; KTVX, an ABC affiliate owned by Nexstar Media; and KUTV, a CBS affiliate owned by the Sinclair Television Group. The McMullin campaign filed the suit in 3rd District Court in Salt Lake County.

The ad airs what the McMullin campaign says is doctored audio of the independent hopeful saying,  “The Republican base is racist… These bigots.” 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 appear as though Evan said something he simply never did. It is doctored with the intention to divide and deceive. Period,” Andrew Roberts, McMullin’s campaign manager, said in a statement.

Mark Danielson, vice president and general manager of KTVX, said the station was reviewing the lawsuit. Reps from Club For Growth and the two other TV stations didn’t immediately respond to Standard-Examiner queries seeking comment while none of the defendants have yet responded to the suit. KSL, an NBC affiliate in Salt Lake City, pulled the ad in question prior to the suit after the McMullin campaign reached out to officials at the TV station.

Photos supplied

U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican, left, and Evan McMullin, an independent who is challenging the incumbent in the race for the seat.

A Lee representative didn’t offer any comment on the content in question, but noted prohibitions 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,” said the Lee campaign.

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 waged an unsuccessful independent presidential bid in 2016, drawn into the race by his distaste for then-candidate Donald Trump, and unease with the more extreme elements of the Republican and Democratic parties seems to be at the core of his candidacy.

According to the suit, the McMullin audio used to create the Club For Growth ad apparently came from a 2017 panel discussion on CNN he took part in that was focused on the rally earlier that year in Charlottesville, Virginia, by white supremacists. The violent rally left one woman dead.

In pinpointing the source of the Club For Growth ad audio, the suit more specifically pointed to comments McMullin made referring to “elements” of the Republican Party that attack other party leaders who make statements against racism.

“Not all Republicans of course are racist,” McMullin said in the CNN segment, according to the suit. “I was raised by Republicans, who are not at all, and we welcome Americans of all backgrounds and are not at all like this… 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 so, they’ll be criticized, and they’ll potentially lose votes.”

In the suit, the McMullin campaign seeks unspecified damages, though not less than $300,000, the threshold for a tier 3 case, an injunction halting airing of the ad in question and costs associated with the case.

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