Florida GOP demands TV station pull ad attacking Lizbeth Benacquisto

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The Republican Party of Florida is demanding that a local television station cease airing a super PAC’s television commercial critical of state Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto.

The commercial, paid for by Values are Vital, is attacking Benacquisto for using her state Senate campaign account to run ads. The Values are Vital ads say Benacquisto is essentially running for Congress, and that her ads should say she is.

On Tuesday, Republican Party of Florida attorney Emmett Mitchell wrote to the Fort Myers CBS affiliate’s sales manager demanding that the Values are Vital ad be taken off the air.

The commercial “contains false information and allegations,” asserts Mitchell, citing that Benacquisto “is an active candidate” for state Senate re-election and has not filed to run for U.S. Congress, reports Roll Call’s Abby Livingston.

Because the ad is being paid for by a super PAC and not a candidate, the advertisement is not protected political speech as contemplated by Federal Communications Commission, argues Mitchell.

“Please consider this to be formal notice and demand that you immediately cease airing the video communication,” Mitchell added.

The Republican Party of Florida, Mitchell writes, will “pursue all legal remedies against your station for the continued airing of false statements about Senator Benacquisto.”

Here is the letter from the RPOF:

[scribd id=201335654 key=key-2eij0c4ns2iztx0pj6um mode=scroll] 

Anthony Farhat, chairman of Values are Vital, said the group — which is funded, in part, by supporters of Paige Kreegel, a former state representative now running for the congressional seat held by U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, launched the ads and “made immense media buys” before Benacquisto had an opponent for her state Senate seat.

Responding to Roll Call’s Livingston, Farhat defended airing the ad.

“Ms. Benacquisto is actively soliciting donors and public officials for support of her Congressional campaign,” said Farhat. “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.'”

Contined Farhat, “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.”

A spokesman for Benacquisto pushed back on that argument. 

“She’s a candidate for re-election,” said Brian Hughes. “She’s making the case to the people of Southwest Florida.”

Here is the ad from Values are Vital. 

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.