by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
A split 2-1 panel of the N.C. Court of Appeals has ruled that Lt. Gov. Dan Forest can pursue his six-year-old lawsuit against an election committee that backed his opponent in the 2012 election.
The Republican Forest sued the Employees Political Action Committee, which backed Democrat Linda Coleman in 2012, for running a television commercial that violated the then-current “stand by your ad” law. Forest contended that EMPAC’s ad did not include proper disclosure information. He sued to get damages linked to the amount of money EMPAC spent on the ad.
A trial court had tossed the case, but the Appeals Court reversed that decision. “This matter involves the partisan political process,” Judge Chris Dillon wrote for the majority. “And there is an element of political irony; a Republican invoking a law passed by a Democratic-controlled General Assembly and later repealed by a Republican-controlled General Assembly. However, our job is not to consider the politics of the parties involved. Rather, our job is simply to apply the law, irrespective of politics.
“Applying the law, we must conclude that our General Assembly acted within its authority in 1999 when it enacted the Disclosure Statute, creating a private cause of action in favor of political candidates against the sponsors of political ads who fail to properly disclose their identity, just as the General Assembly acted within its authority when it took away this statutory right in 2013. Therefore, we must conclude that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of EMPAC.”