Editor’s note: This post was updated at 12:20 p.m. to include comments from state Sen. Don Benton.
We’re less than 50 days away from the general election now, which means that campaign attacks and responses are ramping up.
But while we’re used to hearing candidates complain that their opponent is distorting their records, it’s not everyday you see a lawsuit threat.
That’s exactly what’s happening in southwest Washington, where state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, sent a cease and desist letter last week to his Democratic opponent, state Rep. Tim Probst. The letter, written by Oregon attorney Peter Mozena, called for Probst to stop making three “false and misleading” claims about Benton — that he missed a lot of votes as a state senator, that he received compensation of more than $1 million as a senator and that he was forced to resign as the state GOP chairman.
“Your making such statements against Senator Benton puts you in a position to bear the liability for your actions under the law of defamation relating to public officials,” Mozena wrote in the two-page letter, released this week by the Probst campaign. “The damages to Senator Benton’s reputation would exceed one million dollars.
In an interview, Benton called the claims — particularly the one about him being forced to resign as state party chairman — “despicable,” “outright fabrications” and “blatant lies.”
In response, the Probst campaign put out a five-page memo defending the claims that Benton is disputing.
The memo cited WashingtonVotes.org as showing that Benton has missed 299 votes, or 12.1 percent of votes since 2009; The Columbian as reporting that Benton’s salary and office expenses totaled more than $1 million since 1996; and Roll Call and The Seattle Times as discussing Benton’s controversial departure from the state GOP chairman job in 2001.
“These are true and relevant job performance facts,” Probst said in a news release. “It’s disappointing that Benton’s instinct is to threaten people with frivolous lawsuits.”
Benton shot back that what was really disappointing was Probst choosing to publicize the dispute.
“He can defend his claims in court. Just let him lie it again and we’ll see how defensible his claims are,” Benton said. “The man is lying about my public service and is fabricating stories about my public service and if he continues to do so, I will absolutely take legal action against him for slanderous behavior.”