NC High Court: Lt. Governor Can Sue Over Political Ad

The North Carolina Supreme Court building in Raleigh. (Photo via Wikipedia Commons)

RALEIGH, N.C. (CN) — Former North Carolina Lt. Governor Dan Forest can sue over a 2012 political ad that favored his Democratic opponent, the state’s Supreme Court ruled on Friday.

In 2012, a political action committee for the State Employees Association of North Carolina placed television advertisements supporting Linda Coleman, a Democratic candidate who narrowly lost the lieutenant gubernatorial election to Forest later that year. 

According to a complaint filed by Forest’s election committee, the Employees Political Action Committee (EMPAC) did not include proper disclosures when it ran one of these advertisements. 

Democratic Associate Justice Robin Hudson wrote Friday’s 91-page opinion, which affirmed a divided appeals court decision that allowed Forest to proceed with the lawsuit in 2018. 

Forest says EMPAC owes $78,000 in damages — the proximate cost of running the ad — because it failed to follow the state’s “stand by your ad” statute, which has since been repealed. 

The statute passed by the General Assembly in 1999 allowed candidates to sue their opponents for violating disclosure rules. Among those rules was a requirement for televised political ads to include a photograph of the sponsor’s CEO or treasurer with a spoken statement from that person. 

Forest’s complaint states that the photo included in EMPAC’s ad was not a full-screen picture as then required by law. Additionally, the image depicted Dana Cope, who did not hold either of the required jobs. 

The committee pulled the original advertisement and replaced it with one including a full-screen picture after Forest sent a notice to the State Board of Elections. 

“The full-screen picture in the second advertisement was also of Mr. Cope, and therefore also failed to comply fully with disclosure requirements,” Hudson Wrote on Friday. 

Responding to Forest’s allegations, EMPAC argued that the Republican did not have standing to sue because he was not adequately injured by the ad since he went on to win both the 2012 election and the 2016 election. 

“But, as discussed above, that is not the law of North Carolina,” Hudson wrote.

The justices ruled that under the North Carolina Constitution, the complaining party does not have to show he has suffered “injury in fact” in order to bring claims before a court.

The General Assembly’s statute had expressly given Forest the right to bring legal action, they held, asserting that the politician has no further burden to establish injury in this case. 

“Under North Carolina law, the legislature may create causes of action, including ‘private attorney general actions’ to vindicate even a purely public harm,” Hudson wrote, adding “Our requirement for a ‘direct injury’ in cases where the plaintiff attacks the validity of a statute under the constitution does not apply here.” 

The justices declined on Friday to rule on the constitutionality of the “stand by your ad” rule. 

“The doctrine of standing in federal courts, including the ‘injury-in-fact’ requirement, arises under the case-or-controversy provisions of the United States Constitution, by which exercise of the federal judicial power is limited. The North Carolina Constitution, by contrast, contains no analogous provision,” Hudson wrote. 

%d bloggers like this: