In what strikes me as terrible, terrible timing, Robert Hurt has filed a lawsuit against the League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club, and two C’ville TV stations. He actually filed the suit two weeks ago, but nobody noticed, so it’s becoming public now, on the eve of the election. Here’s the advertisement that’s prompted his lawsuit:
I’m insufficiently familiar with the claims made here to know if they have any veracity (I’d heard about the ad, but never seen it—I dropped my satellite TV subscription back in the spring). The logic of the suit is that the Sierra Club and the LCV paid for the ad, and he’s suing NBC-29 and Virginia Broadcasting/Gray Television because they broadcast it. He wants $740k in compensatory damages and $350k in punitive damages.
There are a few things about this that don’t make sense to me. The first is the legal logic behind filing the lawsuit prior to the election. If he loses tomorrow, it’ll be by a narrow margin. In which case he’d have grounds to pump up those compensatory damages, since he could argue that he didn’t win the seat as a result on the ad. The second is the publicity logic behind filing the lawsuit prior to the election. It’d be one thing if he’d filed this six months ago. But two weeks before the campaign? It looks desperate. The third and most surprising aspect is that he’s filing this lawsuit at all. I’m no expert in first amendment cases, but I’m no slouch, either. Hurt is a public official, meaning that to win a slander case, he’s got to prove actual malice—that is, that all four of the defendants made specific that they knew or strongly suspected were not true. That’s a very, very high bar, one that’s pretty difficult to clear.
Maybe this late hour is simply too late to affect the outcome of this election. In which case, Hurt got plain lucky.
Update: PolitiFact ranks the ad as “barely true.” The facts are true, but their effects have been exaggerated. Hurt received a total of just $2,000 from Virginia Uranium, and over the course of seven years, at that. Also, Hurt went to the senate ethics committee to see if it would be a conflict of interest for him to vote on the bill; they gave him the green light. A political ad in which the facts are true, but their effects are exaggerated? That’s what you call a “political ad.” It ain’t right, but it’s par for the course.