State representative candidate Michela Skelton filed a defamation lawsuit Wednesday for an ad that claims she’s an advocate of “violent protest against police.”
The lawsuit, which was filed in Boone County Circuit Court, is aimed at the House Republican Campaign Committee, Zimmer Radio Group and her opponent, Rep. Sara Walsh, R-Ashland.
The ad, run by the HRCC, praises Walsh as “a leader in winning full funding for our schools, restoring funding for Mizzou and for working for good-paying, family-supporting jobs.”
The ad then attacks Skelton, Democratic candidate for the 50th district.
“Law enforcement officers put their lives on the line for us every day, yet a radical element targets these heroes,” the ad states. “Sadly, one of those advocates for violent protest against police is right here in our community. Michela Skelton, the same Skelton who backs forcing all Missourians into a single-payer, government-run health care system, even worse than Obamacare.”
“That’s not just a lie or a half-truth — that’s defamation,” Skelton said in a Facebook video Monday. Skelton and her attorney sent a cease-and-desist letter to the radio group airing the ad.
During a news conference Wednesday at the Boone County Courthouse, Skelton said the ad takes her “call for justice, solidarity and equality and turns it into an accusation of attack, of violence against the police. And that’s not true.”
Walsh, who was out of town to attend the funeral of a family member, said in a statement to the Missourian that she had not seen the ad.
“What I have learned from reading online news stories is that the ad is a product of the House Republican Campaign Committee (HRCC) — not me or my campaign,” Walsh wrote. “I have also learned that my opponent is planning legal action against me for something about which I have no first-hand knowledge and absolutely no control over. Campaigns are prohibited from consulting or collaborating with entities such as the HRCC.”
Walsh said that she has no control over the independent group or the ad.
“The bottom line is that I have no control over what the HRCC does,” Walsh wrote. “I will not allow this threat of frivolous legal action to get in the way of my representation of the citizens of MO-50.”
Skelton shared an email from the HRCC on her Facebook page, which claimed her response to violent protests in St. Louis in 2017, following the acquittal of a police officer in the shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith, “criticized white people for silence.”
In Skelton’s 2017 post, she wrote, “I stand with the protesters, marchers and black leaders in St. Louis as they press for a more just society so we can all, as equals, fulfill the great promise of our nation and our constitution.”
In her Facebook video, Skelton called on Walsh to respond to the defamation “made on her behalf.”
“The people of our district and of our state deserve better than a candidate who will hide behind third-party attacks and flat-out lies that divide our communities and don’t reflect our values,” Skelton said.
Sandy Davidson, an MU communications law professor, said that under the law, only the producer of video would be potentially held responsible for its content.
Because Skelton is running for political office, it would be harder to prove defamation, Davidson said. In some cases, “the courts say because it’s political, it’s considered opinion,” she said.
Supervising editor is Mark Horvit, firstname.lastname@example.org.