U.S. presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich threatened to sue TV stations airing ads by a group backing Mitt Romney claiming he was fined for ethics violations. Pictured last Saturday. UPI/Kevin Dietsch | License Photo
WASHINGTON, Jan. 12 (UPI) -- U.S. presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich threatened to sue TV stations airing ads by a group backing Mitt Romney claiming he was fined for ethics violations.
In letters sent to TV stations in Florida and South Carolina, Stefan Passantino, national counsel for the Gingrich campaign, said ads asserting the Georgia Republican was "fined" for violating House ethics rules are false and represent "a defamatory communication, which exposes this station to potential civil liability," NBC News reported Thursday.
"In turn, we do hereby DEMAND that your station immediately REFUSE, and if started, CEASE airing any such advertisements," the letter dated Jan. 6 said.
In an e-mail to NBC News Wednesday, Passantino said the letter put the Romney-backing mega-political action committee on notice "that the free ride they have enjoyed to misstate Newt's record [is] over. Discussing true facts concerning one's record are fine, using Super PAC funds to mislead voters will no longer be tolerated."
Passantino said the $300,000 that Gingrich paid in 1997 after a House Ethics Committee investigation was a reimbursement to the chamber for "some costs" of the investigation and didn't constitute a fine.
Charles Spies, a lawyer for Restore Our Future, said the group plans to re-air the claim that Gingrich was fined in a new round of ads in Florida beginning in a few days. He told NBC News "no station has pulled the ads" because of the threat from Gingrich.
In his own letter to television station managers, Spies said the letter from the former House speaker's campaign was a "desperate attempt to conceal Gingrich's ethics baggage in the lead up to Florida's presidential primary election."
The dispute concerns a House ethics panel's investigation into allegations Gingrich improperly used a college course, funded by political donors, to promote political causes, potentially violating federal tax laws and House ethics rules.
The full House voted 395 to 28 to adopt the committee's report that recommended reprimanding Gingrich and imposing the $300,000 penalty Passantino described as a "payment reimbursing the House for some of the costs of the investigation."