Bass campaign demands TV channels drop ‘defamatory’ ads

An attorney for Rep. Karen Bass sent a cease-and-desist letter to five Los Angeles television stations on Tuesday, demanding that they stop airing an attack campaign ad he called false and ” defamatory”.

Bass, a candidate in the June 7 primary election to replace Mayor Eric Garcetti, said through his attorney that the 30-Second ad campaign, produced by the union representing rank-and-file Los Angeles police officers, contains “information false, misleading and defamatory”. information about her and her voting record in Washington, D.C.

Stephen J. Kaufman, a campaign attorney, said in his letter that the ad falsely claims that Bass, after receiving free college tuition, “voted repeatedly to donate millions to the ‘USC Taxpayer Fund’.

“Karen Bass never voted to direct taxpayer funds to USC, and none of the bills cited in the ad refer to USC,” he wrote. Kaufman said the campaign would pursue “legal remedies” against stations that continue to air the ad.

The filing comes the same day a political action committee sponsored by the Los Angeles Police Protective League began running nearly $2 million in ads aimed at linking Bass to a federal corruption case targeting Councilman Mark Ridley- Thomas, an ally who is also charged in a USC corruption case.

Union ads focus on Bass’ decision a decade ago to accept $95,000 in free tuition for an online master’s degree program at USC’s School of Social Work while serving in Congress and representing the district that includes USC. The House Ethics Committee authorized Bass’ request to accept the tuition award.

The Times reported last year that the scholarship was offered to Bass by USC Dean Marilyn Flynn, who was later indicted in a federal corruption case involving LA County contracts. Bass only disclosed the full value of his scholarship in 2019 and recently attributed the reporting errors to his former chief of staff, noting that they were discovered by his lawyer.

The police union, which has backed real estate developer Rick Caruso, alleged in its attack announcement that Bass voted on several bills that benefited the university, both while in college and after.

Tom Saggau, spokesman for the PAC police union, said the advertisement was neither false nor defamatory. Bass has repeatedly voted for federal bills that have been the subject of lobbying efforts by USC, he said, resulting in increased funding for the university. Saggau also pointed to a 2019 press release from USC, which discussed a lobbying trip in which its directors — including Caruso — outlined their funding priorities with Bass and other lawmakers.

“It is now clear why Congresswoman Bass failed to legally disclose the $95,000 in free tuition she received from USC for 7 consecutive years on her annual donation disclosure forms,” ​​it said. he said in an email. “She wanted to hide it from the public and now Bass doesn’t want the public to know the facts behind this sleazy deal before this election.”

Anna Bahr, spokeswoman for the Bass campaign, said that over the past decade, Bass has voted for legislation that has funded entire federal agencies. These agencies then made their own decisions about funding various educational institutions, she said.

Bass “has proudly voted for federal budgets that have brought millions to LA, including UCLA, Cal State LA, Cal State Dominguez Hills, Cal State Northridge, LA Trade Tech and USC,” Bahr said in an email. mail. “It is important, however, to remember that these bills funded the entire federal government.”

Police union ads also attempt to link Bass to Ridley-Thomas, a target in the USC federal corruption case. Prosecutors accused Ridley-Thomas and Flynn of conspiring to direct county money to the university in exchange for admitting Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, the alderman’s son, to graduate school with a scholarship complete education and a paid teaching position. Mark Ridley-Thomas, who has declared his innocence, was then on the LA County Board of Supervisors.

Flynn and Ridley-Thomas have pleaded not guilty. Bass has not been charged with any wrongdoing. Nonetheless, the police union created a website to highlight the USC tuition issue, which features images of Bass, Ridley-Thomas and Flynn.

The union first announced its decision to highlight the USC issue on Monday. Union Vice President Jerretta Sandoz said in a statement that it was “appalling” that Bass received free tuition while other Angelenos were “making sacrifices to earn their education.”

Politically speaking, Bass’s decision to issue the cease and desist letter is something of a gamble, as it could end up drawing more attention to the ads. On Wednesday, a group of religious leaders are to hold a press conference in South Los Angeles to denounce the announcement and demand an apology from the union.

None of the stations that received the letter immediately responded to a request for comment. But an expert said the bar for proving defamatory speech was high, leaving open the possibility that adverts would stay on the air.

Jessica Levinson, a professor of election law at Loyola Law School, said the ads could be seen as potentially misleading because they suggest a quid pro quo between Bass’s scholarship and his votes on sweeping spending bills. But Levinson said she thought the ad was unlikely to rise to the level of defamatory speech.

“I don’t think you can prove an intentional misrepresentation of fact, which is the norm for public officials,” she said.

Times staff writers Dakota Smith and Matt Hamilton contributed to this report.

Los Angeles Times

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