Many in the chattering class are clutching their pearls this month as Gawker Media sells its assets to Univision and shudders its flagship brand, Gawker.com. They’ve been demonizing Peter Thiel for secretly financing Terry “Hulk Hogan” Bollea’s successful lawsuit against the company after it published a secretly recorded sex tape.
Typical of the shrieking, Chris Hayes called Thiel’s support of the lawsuit “a million times bigger threat to free speech than ‘safe spaces.’” The New York Times wrote that Thiel’s support “raised a series of new questions about… the role of big money in the court system.”
The truth is that litigation funding is nothing new and that this hysteria is partisan in nature. Indeed, if Peter Thiel was a liberal and Gawker and Denton were conservative, no one would have batted an eye over his funding the lawsuit. Left-wing billionaires and corporations fund litigation all the time, often with the express purpose of bankrupting their opponents, even if they lose the case. As Gawker CEO Nick Denton put it, Thiel is a “Trump-supporting billionaire” so “we feel like we’re fighting the good fight.”
I have firsthand experience being on the other side of this. In 2007, Prince William County, where I have served as chairman, passed ordinances cracking down on illegal immigration, including one that would require police officers to check the legal status of individuals it lawfully detained. Despite carefully making sure our laws complied with U.S. Constitution and federal law, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (PRLDEF, now called Latino Justice) sued to block the law. PRLDEF is funded by George Soros’ Open Society Foundation and dozens of fortune 500 companies including Walmart, Microsoft, MTV, Time Warner, and Pepsi. In addition, over 50 corporate law firms partner with it to provide pro-bono representation.
Despite all their money, we had the law on our side and the court dismissed their suit. PRLDEF and its billionaire backers were not content to stop there. They then filed another lawsuit with the help of big corporate law firms against Prince William County police officers on behalf of violent illegal alien criminal, which they also lost.
In 2011, The Center for American Progress, headed by Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta, released a report entitled “Your State Can’t Afford It The Fiscal Impact of States’ Anti-Immigrant Legislation.” The report described Prince William County as a “cautionary tale” of the “high costs” of local immigration legislation. It also warned against the “mounting legal fees” due to “litigation costs around other local anti-immigrant laws,” because “virtually all have been challenged in the courts.” Of course, it did not mention that we withstood these baseless challenges. The Center bragged about how small towns and cities like Hazleton, Pennsylvania and Farmers Branch, Texas had to pay millions of dollars in legal fees to defend their laws against lawsuits from billionaire supported outfits like PRLDEF and the ACLU.
Gawker and its liberal defenders never complain about left-wing billionaires helping finance lawsuits against conservatives. In fact, Gawker Media’s political blog Wonkette mocked Arizona for the high cost of defending its immigration laws.
I do not know enough about Bollea’s case against Gawker to opine on whether the verdict and damages were correct. However, the ridiculous demonization of Peter Thiel for exercising his right to support the Hulk’s litigation are hypocritical. It shifts the conversation from the fundamental legal issues and comes across as sour grapes from liberals accustomed to having a monopoly on public interest legal market. If you are going to criticize litigation funding, start with George Soros.
Corey Stewart is an attorney and the Virginia Chairman of Donald J. Trump’s Presidential Campaign and Chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors.