It’s Called Litigation Terrorism
Keith Raniere founded the self-help group, Nxivm, in the 1990’s. The group ended up to be a cult that engaged in illegal activities and he is now sitting in a New York jail. That was the only thing that stopped his army of lawyers from suing former members of his group.
Among other things, Mr. Raniere accused former members of causing irreparable harm and defamation to his reputation.
The former members recounted during a TV documentary the endless string of lawsuits that cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars and almost bankrupted them. And that seemed to be the purpose. The suits were only partially to keep disgruntled members from talking. The other part was vindictive and to heal Raniere’s wounded ego.
“You can see what his strategy was—to break you through litigation,” said one of the defendants.
They called it Litigation Terrorism.
The phrase reminded me of news documentaries I watched 20 or so year ago about United States Special Counsel Ken Starr pursuing the Whitewater case and the Lewinski affair and how many lives he ruined, even those who had nothing to do with the Clintons.
Now it reminds me of someone else.
Congress Member Devin Nunes has had a busy year. In March he filed a $250 million defamation suit against Twitter, “Devin Nunes’s Mom,” “Devin Nunes’s Cow,” and Republican strategist Liz Mair.
In April he filed a $150 million lawsuit against McClatchy and the Fresno Bee over a story that reported his investment interest in a Napa winery.
In August he filed a lawsuit in California for an undisclosed amount of damages against Paul Buxman, a Tulare County farmer; Daniel O’Connell, executive director of the Central Valley Partnership; Hope Nisly, a Reedley author and librarian; and Michael Seeley, a Los Angeles member of the political group Southern California Americans for Democratic Action. One of the defendants, Mr. Buxman, is actually a constituent who has voted for Mr. Nunes in the past.
So that is four organizations, five individuals and $350,000,000.
And he is not done. On a recent broadcast of the KSEE24 show Sunday Morning Matters, Mr. Nunes warned he would file three to five more lawsuits against “dark money” groups.
The defendants named in lawsuits filed in California are protected by strict anti-SLAPP laws about which I have written often in Political Fix. Anti-SLAPP laws prevent people in a position of power from violating individuals’ first amendment rights.
Mr. Buxman, Mr. O’Connell, Ms. Nisly, and Mr. Seeley’s actions described in Mr. Nunes’ lawsuit are constitutionally protected forms of speech. They can turn the tables on Mr. Nunes and file an anti-SLAPP suit against him and Mr. Nunes would have to pay all of their legal costs.
The same is not true, though, for Ms. Mair, who has set up a legal defense fund. It is no coincidence that the lawsuit against McClatchy, Twitter and Ms. Mair was filed in Virginia, even though McClatchy and Mr. Nunes are both based out of California.
Virginia has no anti-SLAPP laws and the rich are free to use litigation as a cudgel against their enemies.
So, just because the lawsuit against Devin Nunes’ Cow might get laughed out of court, it doesn’t make it a laughing matter for Ms. Mair. Fighting a defamation suit against a deep-pocketed plaintiff like Mr. Nunes could bankrupt her.
I haven’t read all of the lawsuits but Mr. Nunes’ biggest complaint seems to be that the defendants conspired with candidate Andrew Janz to defame him, injure his reputation, and damage his chances for re-election last year.
Mr. Nunes, won his race against Mr. Janz, but not by the wide margin to which he was accustomed. I’m detecting a wounded ego.
Mr. Nunes’ supporters agree with his pursuing litigation. They insist that when you are attacked you have to fight back or it will never stop.
But this is not World War II and Mr. Nunes is not Pearl Harbor. What happened during the 2018 election was not an attack. It’s called a campaign.
If you are a publicly elected official representing 350,000 people–don’t you think a few of them are going to be critical, including the person running against you?
There will also be critics nationally like McClatchy, Ms. Mair, and the twitter-sphere because being the top Republican in the House Intelligence Committee, Mr. Nunes’ decisions and comments on Fox News affect all Americans.
We the people have a right to criticize our representatives. In fact it is our civic duty. And it’s Mr. Nunes’ job to “fight back” by educating his constituents through debates and forums on how he works in his district’s best interests.
It’s called Democracy.
According to the Fresno Bee, Heather Greven, who managed Mr. Janz’s congressional campaign, called the lawsuit “hilarious.” Ms. Greven pointed out that the Janz campaign rejected corporate money and raised more money from within the 22nd district than did Mr. Nunes.
“I hope his constituents are watching,” she said. “You’re more likely to get sued by your member of Congress if you live in Fresno or Tulare County than to see him at a town hall and talk to him about constituent issues,” she told the Bee.
It’s Called a Double Standard
The lawsuit against retired farmer and artist Paul Buxman and others came about because they signed a petition asking the California Secretary of State’s to reconsider Mr. Nunes’ ballot designation as farmer.
So Mr. Nunes is suing all involved.
Huge swathes of Mr. Nunes’ lawsuit against Mr. Buxman laments the use of dark money. He sums up his thoughts in the first line.
“The unfettered and unbridled use of illicit ‘dark money’ in political campaigns is detrimental to our democracy and threatens free and fair elections. All citizens regardless of their political affiliations should be concerned about the improper use of money that corrupts our political process.”
In his suit Mr. Nunes claims he will unmask the “dark money” fueling politics and will bring about campaign reform.
The fact that a Republican is promoting campaign reform and is critical of Democrats using dark money is a little hard to swallow.
Dark money is when donors don’t have to publicly give their names when donating to a political corporation or politically active non-profit. Non disclosure of these donors has been legal since the Supreme Court decision Citizens United in 2010.
Democrats have wanted the Citizens United decision overturned since it was handed down. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell is a fervent supporter of Citizens United and called it a “terrific decision” when it was first decided.
American Action Network, a conservative political nonprofit, gave $26.5 million to the Republican Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF) during the 2018 elections, all of it dark money as the group is exempt from disclosing its donors.
The CLF was first lead by former House Speaker John Boehner, then House Speaker Paul Ryan, to keep the House in Republican hands. After a disastrous 2018 election, the CLF is trying to win its House seats back and has already started campaigning for former Representative David Valadao in his fight against Congress Member TJ Cox.
For 2019, the CFL has raised $7.6 million, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission. More than $3.5 million of that total was again dark money that came from the American Action Network.
In case the relationship between the Congressional Leadership Fund and American Action Network wasn’t close enough, they share the same Executive Director, Corry Bliss.
Both Democrats and Republicans use dark money against their challengers but the Republicans use much more and have blocked, in the past, and are currently blocking, campaign reform.
In an investigation by Mother Jones, “Conservative groups have spent approximately $763.2 million in dark money over the past decade, while liberal groups spent approximately $235.8 million during the same time frame.”
2018 was the first year since Citizen United that liberal groups used more dark money than conservative groups, but Democrats in the House passed campaign finance reform legislation to do away with dark money.
The bill, “For the People Act” considered a sweeping anti-corruption bill, passed the House and is headed to the Senate. Not one Republican in the House voted for the bill and now Mr. McConnell has refused to put the bill up for a vote in the Senate.
You would think as an opinionated middle-aged woman I would be used to living with a double standard but it still gets under my skin.
The bottom line for Republicans is that when President Obama issued Executive Orders he was acting like a monarch, deficits only matter when a Democrat occupies the White House, and using dark money is only unethical when used by liberal groups.
So why would Mr. Buxman, a retired farmer and artist waste his time challenging Mr. Nunes’ designation as farmer on the 2018 ballot?
Maybe it had something to do with integrity.
Mr. Buxman told the Fresno Bee, “People want to see the word farmer for this reason: The word farmer says they’re someone who is out early, working with the workers. Their main occupation is taking care of trees, maybe cows, or whatever it is. We trust those kinds of people because they’re salt of the earth. I have to say I support farmers.
“Across the American landscape, if you ask: What is a teacher? What is a pilot? What is a farmer? They have an idea what that is. Farmers take care of the land and people, and they’re out there every day driving a tractor.”