The Republican runoff primary in North Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District special election heated up on Monday when the attorney for State Rep. Gregory Murphy’s campaign sent a memorandum to local television stations asking them to stop running “false advertising being aired on your station” by a newly formed PAC, WFW Action Fund, the political arm of Winning for Women.
Murphy, a medical doctor, faces pediatrician Dr. Joan Perry in the July 9 runoff after he finished in first place in May’s Republican primary with 22 percent of the vote, and Perry finished in second place with 15 percent of the vote.
The North Carolina State Board of Elections called for a special general election to be held on September 10 to replace the late Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC-03), who died unexpectedly in February at the age of 76.
Unlike the special general election to be held on the same day in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, which is expected to be a closely contested race between the Democratic nominee, Dan McCready, and the Republican nominee, State Senator Dan Bishop, the Republican nominee in the 3rd Congressional District will be heavily favored to win the special general election on September 10.
Before a debate with Perry in Winterville, North Carolina on Monday, Murphy said the WFW Action Fund ad was “full of lies,” and challenged his opponent to renounce it:
“The people of the 3rd District are people of integrity and honesty — they do not like being lied to,” he said during the debate.
Murphy then asked Perry if she speaks “for honesty and integrity.”
“Is that what’s important? Do you renounce that ad and the group that did it? It is full of lies,” he said.
Perry said she was not aware of the ad until Monday afternoon. She noted that the ad didn’t come from her campaign but instead was funded by an independent group.
“I’m not going to renounce something that I haven’t investigated myself,” she said.
In the 3rd Congressional District GOP runoff primary race, Murphy has been endorsed by Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC-11) and the House Freedom Caucus, while Perry has been endorsed by WFW Action Fund and the Susan B. Anthony list.
You can watch the ad in question here:
In her letter to North Carolina station managers dated June 3, Mitchell, a partner at the prestigious Washington, D.C. law firm of Foley & Lardner and one of the leading experts on election law in the country, wrote that “WFW Action does not provide any on-screen sources for the central claims in the ad.”
“A central claim in this ad is that Dr. Greg Murphy ‘said’ that ‘President Trump is the worst top of ticket in our history.’ There is no support and no link to any documentation for the claim because it is not true,” Mitchell continued.
“To avoid liability for distributing such a recklessly false ad, your station must immediately cease airing it,” Mitchell stated.
“[T]he assertion that Dr. Murphy made the statement is false and is contradicted by the very news media account from which the statement in the script is supposedly taken,” she continued.
Mitchell is referring to an article, dated November 6, 2016, published in The Reflector, a local newspaper that “has been a vital part of the life of Greenville, Pitt County, and eastern North Carolina, for more than a century,” which stated:
“I’ve had many people say they don’t like Trump. I’ve had many, many say they don’t trust Hillary, and I’ve had many people say it’s the worst top of the ticket we’ve had in our history,” Murphy said. “I think it’s bringing a lot of people out.” A lot of people are really concerned about the direction of the nation, Murphy said. [emphasis added in Mitchell letter]
“Labeling the statement as Dr. Murphy’s personal opinion regarding President Trump’s candidacy is blatantly untrue,” Mitchell added.
Mitchell noted in her letter to station managers that “Unlike federal candidates, however, independent political organizations like WFW Action do not have a ‘right to command the use of broadcast facilities.’ Because you do not need to air this advertisement, your station bears responsibility for its content when you do grant access.”
“Failure to prevent the airing of ‘false and misleading advertising’ may be ‘probative of an underlying abdication of licensee responsibility’ that can be cause for the loss of a station’s license,” she concluded.
On Tuesday, Jason Torchinksy and Michael Bayes, of the Warrenton, Virginia law firm HoltzmanVogelJosefiakTorchinsky PLLC and Counsel to WFW Action Fund, Inc. responded to Mitchell’s letter with one of their own addressed to North Carolina television station managers, doubling down in defense of the claims made in the controversial ad.
“Dr. Murphy’s counsel misquotes the advertisement,” Torchinsky and Bayes began.
“The advertisement does not state, as Dr. Murphy’s counsel contends on the first page of her memorandum, that Murphy used the words ‘President Trump is the worst top of the top ticket in our history.’ Rather, the advertisement places the word “quote” in the correct place, just before the phrase ‘worst top of the ticket in our history,’ ” Torchinsky and Bayes continued.
“Notwithstanding references to decades-old court decisions, your station will face no sanctions of any kind for continuing to air an advertisement that is accurate and substantiated,” they conclude.
With a little more than a month until the July 9 runoff election, television station managers in North Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District now face an important decision. If they accept the claim that the WFW Action Fund ad is “accurate and substantiated” and continue to run the ad, they face the possibility that the Murphy campaign will file complaints that they are airing “false and misleading advertising” with the Federal Communications Commission, which licenses television stations.
On the other hand, if they remove the ad from their airwaves, WFW Action Fund may consider legal action of its own.