The Republican Party of Florida has demanded a local television affiliate cease airing a spot from a GOP super PAC, according to a letter obtained by CQ Roll Call.
At issue is an ad backed by supporters of former state Rep. Paige Kreegel, a candidate who is challenging Rep. Trey Radel in the GOP primary for Florida’s 19th District. Radel faces an increasingly competitive nomination fight in this safe Republican district, thanks to his recent legal issues. Radel pleaded guilty last year to cocaine possession.
But Radel is not the subject of the ad.
Instead, the spot attacks a candidate who has not yet filed to run for Congress – state Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, a Republican. Benacquisto aired a positive spot in early January that was paid for by her state Senate campaign. She is a safe bet for re-election in the state Senate, so many local observers thought the commercial was an early overture for her challenge to Radel.
Late last week, the pro-Kreegel super PAC, “Values are Vital,” went up with an ad charging that Benacquisto is “playing fast and loose with the law” with that ad. It also argues Benacquisto is spending “special interest money that would be illegal in a Congressional race.”
On Tuesday, Florida GOP counsel Emmett Mitchell IV wrote a threatening letter to the Fort Myers CBS affiliate’s sales manager. Mitchell demanded that the Values are Vital ad be taken off the air.
Mitchell argued that the spot ”contains false information and allegations,” citing that Benacquisto “is an active candidate” for state Senate re-election and has not yet filed to run for U.S. Congress.
“Please consider this to be formal notice and demand that you immediately cease airing the video communication,” Mitchell added.
A senior Florida Republican official verified the authenticity of the letter.
Mitchell goes on to threaten that the state committee will “pursue all legal remedies against your station for the continued airing of false statements about Senator Benacquisto.”
Here is the “Values are Vital” ad in question:
A Values are Vital spokesman did not return a request for comment.
Updated 8:36 p.m | Anthony Farhat of Values are Vital responded:
Our ad is completely true. Ms. Benacquisto is actively soliciting donors and public officials for support of her Congressional campaign. She has raised significant amounts of special interest money in her State Senate campaign account, however those funds are illegal for use in a Congressional race. Ms. Benacquisto is clearly setting up the voters of Southwest Florida for a ‘bait and switch’. Once she drains the special interest money dry in her State Senate account, look for her to publically announce her true intentions to run for Congress. Politics as usual.