A prominent Oklahoma Republican political consultant sued a client’s opponent for libel in Tulsa County District Court on Friday.
The suit by strategist Fount Holland says television, radio and mail advertising paid for by state Senate District 2 GOP runoff candidate Jarrin Jackson contain “false, misleading, negligent/reckless, and/or malicious statements” and do not constitute fair comment because Holland is not a public figure.
The ads tell prospective voters not to cast their ballots for Ally Seifried, Holland’s client, because of her association with Holland. They imply that Holland has been guilty of criminal behavior, say he operated a “scam” connected to Epic Charter Schools and refer to him as a “hatchet man.”
The suit asks for actual and punitive damages in excess of $75,000 each.
As one of the state’s most successful GOP operatives, Holland has been responsible for controversial political advertising himself over the past two decades, including some this spring targeting State Auditor and Inspector Cindy Byrd.
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Asked the difference between some of his ads and Jackson’s, Holland replied, “You have to have some truth to what you say. … You can’t just come out and call somebody a criminal unless you can back it up.”
Holland said there “appears to be a concerted effort around the state” to attack him, and he said other suits may be filed.
Jackson could not be reached Friday afternoon.
The ads include what Friday’s lawsuit said is a fabricated Oklahoma County mugshot of Holland, and they say he has been paid with “state money” funneled through Epic Charter Schools.
Holland and four others, including State Superintendent and current gubernatorial candidate Joy Hofmeister, were charged by Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater in 2016 with conspiracy to illegally coordinate an independent expenditure campaign with Hofmeister’s successful 2012 bid for state superintendent.
Those charges were dismissed nine months later.
More recently, Byrd’s supporters alleged that Holland benefited from an independent expenditure campaign against Byrd by producing mail pieces paid for by unknown sources. Charges filed this summer against former top Epic executives suggest that state funds that were supposed to be used for Epic students paid for political contributions, some of which ultimately benefited Holland’s company.
Friday’s lawsuit denies that Holland ever worked directly for Epic.
It is unusual if not unprecedented for a candidate to try to win votes by attacking an opponent’s campaign consultant or for a consultant to sue a client’s opponent for liable.
U.S. libel law distinguishes between private and public figures. The latter are held to be subject to “fair comment,” which is to say a higher level of criticism and questioning and a narrower definition of libel. Hence, Holland’s assertion that he is a private citizen would mean a lower bar for proving libel.
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