Oklahoma Senate District 41 candidate Paul Blair filed a libel, defamation and false light suit Thursday against his election opponent, Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, claiming advertisements run by a political action committee were aired with “reckless disregard for the truth and a malicious intent to injure.”
The radio and television ads state that Blair violated state tax laws, and they continued to run even after Blair called for them to be taken off the air.
Blair said in his suit that the ads are intentionally misleading and are not truthful.
Voters in Edmond go to the polls Tuesday to decide between Blair, an evangelist and former professional football player, and Jolley, a two-term incumbent who is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“I will not comment about the lawsuit,” Jolley said. “But I'm clearly disappointed that he is choosing to go this route. As much as he has distorted and disparaged my record throughout the campaign, filing a lawsuit never entered my mind as an option. This is a very regrettable decision he has made for Edmond.”
Blair was incensed by that comment.
“He sent spies into our campaign kickoff, has twisted words out of context, has accused me of lying on mail pieces and on the radio, said ‘Shame on that negative campaigner Paul Blair' on the radio, accused me of ‘class warfare,' accused me of attacking Governor Fallin, made phone calls inferring my business lost the schools account because of ‘scandal,' made calls accusing my volunteers of being rude and spreading lies, and now this PAC is making me out to be a criminal because of an overlooked franchise tax fee,” Blair said. “But we are both supposedly engaged in a ‘negative campaign.' The only negative statement that I have made is telling the truth about his record. But is his record my fault?”
Blair's lawsuit asks for relief through the ads being stopped, an apology ad being run at least as many times as the negative ad was run and emotional damages and court fees estimated in excess of $10,000.
The issue of lawsuit tort reform is a key point in the race. Jolley voted for House Bill 2128, which placed a $350,000 cap on how much a victim could receive in damages that are not economic, such as pain and suffering damages.
A group of trial lawyers who created political action committees have donated about $7,500 to Blair's campaign.
Political action committees
The ads in question are not being paid for by Jolley's campaign, but rather a political action committee known as the Coalition for Oklahoma's Future Inc., also a defendant in the lawsuit.
Xavier Neira, chairman of the Coalition for Oklahoma's Future, released information Monday showing three businesses that were started by Blair failed to pay a franchise tax. Businesses are required to file a listing of officers annually, which usually also includes paying a franchise tax of $25.
Blair said that one of those companies he has not been involved with for a decade, the other was open for a year and then closed and the third is his vending company.
He said there was an oversight one time in paying the $25, but the fee was paid as soon as they realized their oversight.
“There are no taxes due,” Blair said.
Robert McCampbell, attorney for the Coalition for Oklahoma's Future, said the group is completely independent of Jolley and his campaign.
“This lawsuit is without merit and appears to be merely for political spin,” McCampbell said. “The ads by C.O.F. merely repeat fact from official documents about violations of Oklahoma tax laws by companies Blair founded. The tax law violations are confirmed by public documents from the Oklahoma Tax Commission and the secretary of state's office.”
Blair said in his lawsuit that this type of negative campaigning and false advertising “chills society's interest in uninhibited, robust and wide-open debate on public issues.”
Blair said in a statement that he understands now why good people don't run for office.
“It is a shame when a man who has invested 49 years in his hometown, 25 years as a small-business man and 11 years as a minister, all the while establishing an impeccable reputation in the community, and now trying to serve his community through accepting the public trust, is viciously and unjustly attacked,” Blair said. “If a PAC can do this to me, then there is no limit to what a PAC can do to any candidate.”
Contributing: Michael McNutt, Capitol Bureau