Just Like Trump, GOP Candidates Threaten Libel Lawsuits—but Over Ads Tying Them to Trump

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By Emily Zanotti | 5:07 pm, October 25, 2016

Donald Trump is famous for his ligitious nature, regularly commenting on the campaign trail that he’d like to strengthen America’s defamation laws in order to quash the freedom of the press.

It was even revealed this week that the American Bar Association, which had prepared a report on Trump’s threat to First Amendment rights that cited Trump’s bevy of defamation lawsuits, forced the study’s authors to make changes because it was afraid Trump might sue them for defamation.

Now a few GOP candidates for downticket offices are taking a page out of the Trump playbook and threatening a lawsuit—but, oddly, over their opponents’ campaign ads tying them to Trump.

Five Republicans, Reps. Bob Dold (R-Ill.), Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), David Jolly (R-Fla.), John Katko (R-N.Y.) and PA Congressional candidate Brian Fitzpatrick, say that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ads, likening each of them to Donald Trump, are so egregious—and the comparison so insulting—that they’re willing to take legal action.

Fitzpatrick released a statement saying the ads tying him to Trump have caused “substantial and immediate harm to the campaign and Mr. Fitzpatrick’s personal reputation.” Coffmann called the ad saying he supported Trump as the nominee, “false and defamatory.”

They might actually have a case. All five of the candidates consider themselves moderate Republicans, and all five are running in very “purple” districts, where GOP voters lean towards the middle. All five of them have, at some point, either publicly distanced themselves from Trump or expressed open disapproval of the Republican Presidential nominee.

Rep. Jolly’s ad, for example, says Jolly would be complicit in a “Trump administration” and in enacting the “Trump agenda.”

The five candidates would have to first file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission, which oversees political advertising on television. The same standard applies to candidate ads as applies to spots selling nearly any product: the ads can’t be “false, misleading or deceptive.”

But while ads can get dirty, the FCC hasn’t jumped at the chance to make a regulatory ruling. According to the Huffington Post, most candidates simply ask television stations to pull the more egregious commercials.

This time, though, the allegations are so disturbing, Republicans might skip that step and head straight to the courtroom.