Attempt To Strong-Arm Stations Into Removing Factual Ad Part Of Systematic Stonewalling & Smear Campaign
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Republican Governors Association (RGA) today released correspondence from the campaign attorneys representing Louisiana Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards attempting to block a television ad highlighting the sexual harassment scandal involving the governor’s former deputy chief of staff, Johnny Anderson, and allegations made against Anderson by former governor’s office employee Juanita Washington. The ad is currently being aired by RGA Right Direction PAC on broadcast and cable stations statewide.
Despite the RGA Right Direction PAC ad being entirely sourced from news reporting published by mainstream media outlets, Edwards’ lawyers at Washington, D.C.-based law firm Perkins Coie sent a letter to television stations on October 4th attempting to get the ad removed from the airwaves.
In the letter, the attorneys claim the ad “veers into utter falsity by stating that Governor Edwards responded to the complaint by ‘spen[ding] $100,000 taxpayer dollars to keep it quiet.’ This claim is blatantly untrue,” going on several paragraphs later to contradict their own argument by acknowledging that, “At the insistence of Mr. Anderson’s attorneys, the agreement did include a provision that bars Ms. Washington from making disparaging statements.”
In a response letter to television stations, the RGA’s legal counsel characterized the Edwards campaign’s demand as “just one more step in a calculated attempt to shield these unsettling events from the public,” and reiterated the well-documented facts cited in the ad, including the existence of a non-disparagement clause in the state’s settlement agreement with Ms. Washington. The letter states:
“Courts across the country have upheld non-disparagement clauses as valid and legal restrictions on speech; meaning these provisions effectively operate to ‘keep parties quiet’ relative to the disclosure of negative or unfavorable information. In the context of sexual harassment, however, virtually any statement about the offending party will have a negative impact or otherwise be construed to ‘discredit’ or ‘lower [the offending party] in esteem.’”
The letter also quotes statements from Johnny Anderson’s attorney affirming that the intent of the non-disparagement clause was to prevent Ms. Washington from telling her story, including telling the Times-Picayune in 2018 “their settlement prevents [her] from criticizing [him] publicly.”
In the letter’s conclusion, the RGA counsel leaves no doubt about the intent behind the Edwards campaign’s attempted suppression:
“Not only is the statement the Campaign rebuts an accurate representation of the facts, but the very argument the Campaign offers to convince you otherwise only serves to perpetuate its propensity for silencing speech it would rather the public not hear. Victims like Ms. Washington, however, deserve to be heard. The settlement agreement might attempt to silence her, but it won’t silence the advertiser here. The rightful final arbiter on the merits of the RGA Right Direction PAC Advertisement is the viewing public of Louisiana.”
The Edwards campaign’s attempt to remove the ad is just one element of a multi-pronged strategy to suppress the facts and smear the victim. Within the past week, the Edwards campaign has resorted to distributing sexually explicit text messages to the media intended to shame Ms. Washington ahead of a press conference she spoke at on Tuesday morning, taking the ethically questionable step of holding a campaign press conference featuring a member of the governor’s official legal team attempting to discredit Ms. Washington, and Edwards himself making wild allegations of a “desperate” conspiracy against him.
“John Bel Edwards’ decision to engage in a stealth effort to suppress the facts and shame a sexual harassment victim are the actions of a desperate governor and a flailing campaign in the final days,” said RGA Communications Director Amelia Chassé Alcivar. “Governor Edwards may not like being questioned about his well-documented decision to put an accused sexual harasser in a position of power over women or his appalling lack of empathy for the victim, but he has his own actions to thank for that – not the vast right-wing conspiracy he’s trying to invent.”