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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Gianforte Wants 'Misleading' Campaign Ads Pulled

A screen capture from the "Hooked" ad that gubernatorial candidate Greg Gianforte calls false and misleading.
A screen capture from the "Hooked" ad that gubernatorial candidate Greg Gianforte calls false and misleading.

Republican candidate for governor Greg Gianforte is pressuring local TV stations to stop running an ad that he says falsely calls him "a millionaire from New Jersey."

Earlier this month, Gianforte’s attorneys sent a cease-and-desist letter to Montana broadcasters calling on stations to refuse to air what they call a false and misleading advertisement.

The ad, called "Hooked," paid for by the Good Jobs Montana Political Action Committee, says Gianforte is an out-of-state millionaire who sued to block Montanans' public stream access.

Gianforte says he never blocked access and that the access dispute comes from an improperly issued easement by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

University of Montana law professor Anthony Johnstone says the letter sent to TV stations is more about politics than law. He says a cease-and-desist letter is different than filing a lawsuit, and that winning a legal claim alleging false campaign speech would be a long shot.

"The claim that Mr. Gianforte’s lawyers are making here require the speech to be false and not simply open to reasonable to debate or multiple interpretation. It has to be a false statement of fact. And in a campaign, courts are going to be pretty cautious about telling a campaign that they can’t say that about a candidate when there is reasonable disagreement about what those words mean."

Gianforte’s lawyers did not return Montana Public Radio’s calls for a comment on this story.

An email circulated by Montana Democrats shows KULR-8 Television in Billings responded to the cease-and-desist letter. The station concluded that the statements alleged to be misleading were based in fact and not blatantly false.

KULR-8 Television declined to be interviewed for this story.

Over the past several months, financial supporters of Democrat Steve Bullock’s bid for reelection have run ads painting Gianforte as an out-of-stater who is out of touch with Montana values.

In the letter to TV stations, Gianforte’s lawyers say the Republican candidate has lived in Montana for over 21 years, more time than his childhood home of Pennsylvania, and more time than his schooling and early career in New Jersey.

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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