State Supreme Court rules against Wilson over critical ad - - Columbia, South Carolina

State Supreme Court rules against Wilson over critical ad

By Jack Kuenzie - bio | email

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The Republican runoff race for attorney general continues to get hotter as an attack ad made by a third party sparked a state Supreme Court hearing on Monday.

An attorney for candidate Alan Wilson argued before the state Supreme Court over the ethics of a critical campaign ad paid for by a group called the "South Carolina Truth Squad."

[Click to read: GOP race for attorney general gets ugly with anonymous ad]

The ad began airing last Thursday, a stinging attack on the background of attorney general candidate Alan Wilson. On Saturday, Wilson's attorney went to a Lexington judge to get a restraining order.

The Wilson campaign charging that the Truth Squad had failed to comply with the state ethics code. The judge agreed, and issued the order.

But Truth Squad attorney Todd Kincannon filed an appeal, and the dispute landed late Monday afternoon in front of three members of the State Supreme Court.

"This is true speech," said Kincannon. "This is political speech. It is the highest form of speech. It is the most protected form of speech and that is a point that has been lost, I believe."

Kincannon says the attempt by Wilson's campaign to force the ad off the airwaves amounts to prior restraint.

"This is a case about whether or not the South Carolina Truth Squad should be restrained from speaking, restrained from using its First Amendment rights, because of an allegation and an unfounded allegation that it somehow violates some ethics laws," said Kincannon.

But Wilson attorney Mitch Willoughby says there are significant questions about how the spot was financed and who's really behind it.

"All you gotta do is disclose," said Willoughby. "We're not suggesting that they can't run this ad. Even though it's misleading, it provides information that really distorts the truth. It's all of those things, but people can do that. But they can't do it anonymously. The act says we are entitled, the public's entitled to know who is speaking."

Monday evening, the Supreme Court sided with the Truth Squad and granted the stay of the restraining order. The ad continues to air.
But who is the Truth Squad? Wilson's opponent, Leighton Lord, denies any connection with the ad.  Monday's hearing indicated the SC Truth Squad received money for the ad from another organization. The State Ethics Commission web site shows a total of $90,000 in contributions from a group identified as "Citizens Against Litigation Abuse."

Wilson's campaign issued a statement deploring what it called "shadowy groups" and "unethical and subversive tactics."

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