Editorials

Real campaign reform? Getting Devin Nunes to stop silly lawsuits against opponents

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee questions former special counsel Robert Mueller as he testifies before the House Intelligence Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, July 24, 2019 in Washington.
Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee questions former special counsel Robert Mueller as he testifies before the House Intelligence Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, July 24, 2019 in Washington. AP

Not content to stuff mailboxes in his district with election mailers last fall, Rep. Devin Nunes is now clogging the courts with silly lawsuits that are nothing more than campaign stunts.

Earlier this year the Tulare Republican sued Twitter for allegedly “shadow banning” his tweets on the online social media site. He sued the makers of a Twitter account called “Devin Nunes Cow,” which parodies the congressman. And he sued The Bee over a story that reported his investment interest in a Napa winery.

Now Nunes is suing some Democrat activists and a Tulare County farmer for ganging up on him during last fall’s campaign. Filed in Tulare County Superior Court, the suit seeks unspecified damages, but purports lofty goals: To unmask so-called “dark money” fueling politics and to bring about campaign reform.

It would be noteworthy if Nunes really cared about such important issues. But when the lawsuit mimics passages from one of Nunes’ own election mailers sent in the heat of the campaign last year, it becomes clear pretty quickly that this lawsuit, like the earlier ones, is just a way for the congressman to get his Republican supporters fired up so they will turn out next March to vote for him. He cares deeply about that because the 2018 contest against Democrat Andrew Janz was the closest for Nunes since he first was elected to Congress in 2003. He beat Janz by just over 5 percentage points.

The lawsuit references how “dark money” is corrupting U.S. politics. The terms refers to how election laws allow political nonprofits and “super” political action committees to spend unlimited amounts against a candidate as long as they don’t donate to a specific person.

Nunes’ campaign committee, which actually brought the lawsuit, complains that Fight Back California, a Democratic-leaning super PAC, coordinated efforts among Democratic activists to defeat him. Under federal law, super PACs cannot coordinate their efforts with a candidate. Whether Fight Back California did so will be up to the judge. But a Fresno attorney who is an expert on defamation told Bee Staff Writer Brianna Calix that the groups and activists acted well within constitutionally protected free speech.

Nunes should look at his own materials to find egregious misrepresentations of fact.

Case in point: Nunes sent to constituents a multipage mailer last fall that attacked The Bee for its winery story. But there were two pages devoted to attacking liberal “activists” who went to Nunes’ 2017 office to try to see him. Shown on the pages are pictures of people crowding the hallway outside his office. A headline on a page calls them “resistance.”

Actually, those activists were pastors, priests, rabbis and faith leaders from District 22. In a subsequent op-ed to The Bee, they wrote about simply wanting to gain an audience with Nunes. “He continually disregards our requests to respond to questions and engage in dialogue about his position on federal policies affecting residents in our district,” the op-ed said. It was signed by nine faith leaders representing Christianity, Judiasm and Islam.

Besides the mailers, Nunes has had questionable spending. Kate Irby of McClatchy’s Washington bureau reported last year how Nunes used political donations to pay for nearly $15,000 in tickets to Boston Celtics basketball games as well as winery tours and lavish trips to Las Vegas. The accounting was on reports from the Federal Election Commission and two nonpartisan watchdog groups.

Nunes has threatened to bring more lawsuits against “dark money” groups. Rather than waste the court’s time, how about taking up real campaign reform, such as the SAFE Act proposed by Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose. The Securing America’s Federal Elections Act would require Americans to vote with paper ballots. Ballot counting machines could not be connected to the internet or any nonlocal system. The intent is to protect voting from outside interference, like a hostile nation (re: Russia). The measure would set up pilot programs. If the process is found feasible, voting would be revamped nationwide in time for the November 2020 presidential election.

Democrats passed the measure in the House, but Nunes opposed it, as did most Republicans. Politics reigns supreme even with something as critical as secure voting.

Nunes enjoys regularly appearing on Fox News talk shows to offer some new conspiracy theory about Democrats and Russian collusion. But the sad truth is that while Nunes sanctimoniously makes such public appearances, real needs here in the Valley go unmet — immigration reform, securing more water supplies, getting health care to be more affordable.

Voters in the 22nd District need to remember Nunes’ courthouse shams when they pick up their ballots next year.

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