WASHINGTON (RNS) Democrat Kay Hagan filed a defamation suit Thursday (Oct. 30) against Sen. Elizabeth Dole’s re-election campaign, saying her opponent for a Senate seat from North Carolina inaccurately accused her of having ties to an atheist political action committee.
“A leader of the Godless Americans PAC recently held a secret fundraiser in Kay Hagan’s honor,” says the Dole ad. It ends with a female voice — not Hagan’s — saying “there is no God.”
In the suit, filed in a Wake County, N.C., court, Hagan charges that Dole, a one-term Republican, and her campaign maligned her reputation with the ad that “falsely implies that (Hagan) shares the views of an entity that calls itself the Godless Americans PAC.”
Hagan states in the suit that she attended a September fundraiser at the Boston home of Woody Kaplan but never took contributions from the Godless Americans PAC.
Ellen Johnson, executive director of Enlighten the Vote, the new name of the PAC, said Kaplan was a former advisory board member but was involved in the fundraiser independently of the PAC.
In an ad responding to Dole’s accusations, Hagan declares her faith in God and speaks of her years of teaching Sunday school.
“I approve this message because my campaign is about creating jobs and fixing our economy, not bearing false witness against fellow Christians,” Hagan said.
Johnson was featured in a TV clip in the Dole ad.
“Kay Hagan has nothing to do with our PAC and she didn’t ask for our endorsement,” Johnson said in an interview. “We didn’t endorse her…
It just shows how desperate Elizabeth Dole is, but it’s a political tactic that is very effective. One day that won’t be effective. Today, unfortunately, it still is.”
Dole campaign spokesman Hogan Gidley did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but Dole’s Web site has posted an ad responding to Hagan’s rebuttal.
“If Godless Americans threw a party in your honor, would you go?” it asked.
Ed Buckner, who recently succeeded Johnson as president of American Atheists, said the Dole ad’s inclusion of two people who have represented his organization was unfair.
“We’re nonpartisan and to be dragged into the partisanship in this way is not fair to us and it’s almost certainly unfair to the candidate,” said Buckner, also a former member of the Godless PAC’s advisory committee. “The Dole campaign is engaged in improper and unreasonable advertising.”
By Adelle M. Banks
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