Congressional candidate hits back at ‘spliced’ ad, threatens legal action

By Leslie Bonilla Muñiz
Indiana Capital Chronicle

FORT WAYNE — An attack advertisement featuring garbled audio clips of a congressional candidate could provoke an early test of a 50-day-old law cracking down on digitally altered campaign media.

Judge Wendy Davis, one of eight Republicans running for Indiana’s Third Congressional District, accused conservative political action committee (PAC) Club for Growth Action of “dub(bing) together words and unrelated statements … to form a sentence that fits their absurd claims.”

The advertisement asserts that Davis “institut(ed) woke, race-based hiring” during her time as judge. It purports to quote Davis as saying the government lacks ethnic and religious diversity.

“We don’t have enough inclusion. I believe the Constitution — still a breathing and living document — requires,” Davis appears to say.

She denounced the advertisement as “dishonest” in a news release Wednesday.

“It’s laughable to call me a ‘Liberal Judge’ – I forfeited my position on the bench to run for office because I was too conservative to maintain the neutrality the job requires,” Davis said.

“I am disappointed that Club for Growth spliced my words together to fit their fake narrative in support of a failed, career politician …” she continued, referring to primary competitor Marlin Stutzman.

The news release indicated the original audio came from an hourlong panel that Davis participated in about religious freedom. The campaign said it had issued a cease and desist letter.

Club for Growth Action dismissed Davis’ claims.

“Wendy Davis has expressed her strong opinion on diversity and that she believes the Constitution is a ‘breathing and living document,’ but now she’s trying to rewrite history to cover-up her past leftist woke statements,” group President David McIntosh said in a statement.

The super PAC has spent more than $100,000 on ads in recent days against Davis, according to Federal Election Commission records.

An Indiana law approved just weeks ago could apply to the spat.

House Enrolled Act 1133 requires disclaimers on political campaign communications featuring “fabricated media” depicting a candidate that a “reasonable person” wouldn’t know is fake.

That includes audio recordings of speech that have been altered without the affected candidate’s consent so that the media “conveys a materially inaccurate depiction of the individual’s speech, appearance, or conduct as recorded in the unaltered recording.”

It also includes visual recordings, artificially generated imitations of the affected candidate and more.

Under the law, the disclaimer must state: “Elements of this media have been digitally altered or artificially generated.” When in a video, it must be displayed “continuously for the duration” of the advertisement.

If not, the affected candidate can bring a civil action against people that paid for or sponsored the advertisement.

Although most new laws take effect in July, lawmakers had this one take effect immediately; Gov. Eric Holcomb signed it into law March 12.

Davis’ campaign said it planned to pursue legal action but didn’t specifically refer to the new law.

“Splicing someone’s words together without their consent to fit your agenda is wrong, but it’s also illegal in the state of Indiana,” Campaign Manager Rex Purgason said in a statement. “We are pursuing any and all legal measures to have this false ad removed from the airwaves.”

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The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to giving Hoosiers a comprehensive look inside state government, policy and elections. The site combines daily coverage with in-depth scrutiny, political awareness and insightful commentary.

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