Elizabeth Heng, the Fresno Republican challenging longtime Democratic congressional incumbent Jim Costa, has been sued by her former campaign consultant for allegedly breaching their contract.
Dynamic Marketing Inc., doing business as DMI Direct, filed the lawsuit in Fresno County Superior Court on Aug. 3. It claims Heng terminated DMI without cause, a violation of the contract signed by both parties and attached as evidence.
DMI seeks at least $37,500 in missed monthly payments, as well as additional damages for lost profit. According to federal election records, Heng paid DMI $62,398 between March 5 and June 17 for “campaign consulting.”
But Roger Bonakdar, Heng’s attorney, said the lawsuit is nothing more than an attempt to extort Heng and damage her politically.
“This is a politically motivated lawsuit that is factually devoid of truth,” Bonakdar said in an interview with The Bee. “The timing is malicious, with an attempt to injure the campaign.”
Bonakdar said DMI did not deliver on several promises made to Heng’s campaign, including providing email lists and other materials.
Heng then looked to end the contract amicably after the primary, Bonakdar added, but DMI threatened to use a lawsuit to damage Heng’s campaign.
Bonakdar said DMI’s attorney, Daniel Lula, sent an email in reference to a potential lawsuit, saying “wouldn’t this be damaging to the campaign? Do you want people to see this?”
“Ms. Heng is committed to ethics and is a person of the highest character,” Bonakdar said. “She does not respond well to threats. Once they sent the email, the offer was off.”
In a statement, Lula said DMI “regrets that a business dispute has arisen” between it and Heng.
Lula said DMI spent more than 650 hours assisting Heng’s campaign, including “educating Ms. Heng on key issues and preparing position statements on her behalf.”
“Ms. Heng benefited substantially from DMI’s creative and strategic guidance, which culminated in an unprecedented primary election result closing a partisan registration gap of over nine points to within six points,” Lula said.
Lula said he wished Heng well in her upcoming election.
But Heng’s attorney remained adamant DMI was attempting to hurt her chances in the upcoming election.
He questioned the consultant’s reasoning and timing of the lawsuit, saying the case could have been filed any time in the next four years and won’t even go to trial until 2020.
“It makes no sense for (DMI) to do this now,” Bonakdar said. “I am not sure if they did it because Ms. Heng is a woman, or due to her ethnicity, but this would not have happened to another candidate.”