Multimedia Journalist

Political ad sparks lawsuit from Mid-Missouri legislative candidate

Attorney Stephen Wyse and Missouri House District 50 candidate Michela Skelton, a Democrat, begin a news conference at the Boone County Courthouse in Columbia on Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018.
Photo by Danisha Hogue /News Tribune.

Michela Skelton, the Democratic candidate for the Missouri House of Representatives District 50 seat, filed a defamation lawsuit Wednesday in Boone County Circuit Court against the House Republican Campaign Committee and two other defendants.

Skelton, who is challenging Republican incumbent state Rep. Sara Walsh, said a recent radio advertisement playing on Zimmer Radio of Mid-Missouri stations claims she “advocates violent protest against the police.”

“The radio ad that’s currently running right now on the local radio station is more than just a lie or a half truth — it’s defamation,” Skelton said.

Along with the House Republican Campaign Committee, the other defendants are Walsh and Zimmer Radio Group.

Skelton’s attorney, Stephen Wyse of Columbia, sent a cease-and-desist letter to the Zimmer Radio Group on Oct. 19. Skelton said she has heard the ad on KCMQ-FM and that the House Republican Campaign Committee paid for it.

Walsh and the HRCC also received cease-and-desist letters.

The issue stems from a Facebook post Skelton published in September 2017 supporting peaceful protest following the acquittal of a white St. Louis policeman charged with murdering an unarmed black man. The post included a quote from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Skelton denies that the Facebook post supported violent protest of any kind.

Skelton said she thinks this is a way for the opposing party to confuse voters in the district two weeks before the Nov. 6 general election. She wants Walsh to say she disagrees with the ad and said that, by not doing so, Walsh is accepting their message.

“We deserve better as a community. Our state deserves better than a candidate who will hide behind third-party attacks and flat-out lies,” Skelton said.

District 50 covers northern Moniteau and southern Boone counties, as well as northwestern Cole County and a part of southeastern Cooper County.

Wyse said they would consider dropping the lawsuit if Walsh denounces the ad and calls upon leadership to remove the ad.

Walsh said she had no firsthand knowledge of the ad and is “prohibited from telling the HRCC what to do or what not to do.”

“The bottom line is that I have no control over what the HRCC does,” Walsh said. “I will not allow this threat of frivolous legal action to get in the way of my representation of the citizens of MO-50.”

Neither the HRCC and nor Zimmer Radio responded to requests for comment.

UPDATE, posted Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2018: According to a news release from Skelton’s campaign, HRCC edited the ad over the weekend. It now says, “Sadly, one of those who voiced support for protests against police is right here in our community.”

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