JEFFERSON CITY — Republican challenger Dave Spence filed a defamation lawsuit Friday against Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon over negative campaign ads that have targeted Spence's involvement with a bank.
The lawsuit filed in Cole County Circuit Court claims Nixon maliciously or recklessly broadcast false statements about Spence by describing him as a banker who used federal bailout money to buy a vacation home. The suit seeks unspecified monetary damages from Nixon.
"I filed this lawsuit for one simple reason, we need good people in politics," Spence said in a written statement. "If the standard for truthfulness in political campaigns is there is no standard, our state and country will continue to erode because good people won't run for office."
Nixon's campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the lawsuit.
The lawsuit escalates what already has become a tense contest. On Thursday, Spence asserted that Nixon had "sold his soul to the devil" in an attempt to win re-election, citing the banker ads among his evidence. Spence, a St. Louis businessman who made a fortune off a plastic bottle company, is making his first campaign for office.
In one of Nixon's ads, an announcer states that Spence helped run a bank "into the ground with bad investments." The ad says the bank got a $40 million federal bailout and Spence got "an insider loan from his own bank to buy himself a vacation home."
"So Dave Spence used the bailout money to help himself, instead of repaying taxpayers," Nixon's ad says.
Spence did serve on the board of Reliance Bancshares Inc. But he joined the board in May 2009 after the bank already had received $40 million from the U.S. Treasury under the Troubled Asset Relief Program, known as TARP. The next year, Spence took out a more than $1.1 million mortgage on a vacation home at the Lake of the Ozarks. But Spence has said there was no connection between the federal money and the loan, he received no preferential treatment and he left the room when other board officials considered and approved the loan.
Among its chief claims, Spence's lawsuit says Nixon's ad is false for asserting he ran the bank and used bailout money to help himself.
Defamation lawsuits among candidates are not common in Missouri. But similar suits have been filed elsewhere this year. In June, Utah attorney general candidate Sean Reyes filed a defamation suit against Republican primary opponent John Swallow, and Oklahoma state Senate challenger Paul Blair filed a defamation suit against Sen. Clark Jolley in a GOP primary.