By Justin Sink
Newt Gingrich's campaign is threatening to sue South Carolina and Florida television stations that air an ad by a pro-Romney super-PAC claiming Gingrich was "fined" $300,000 for ethics violations during the 1990s.
Gingrich campaign attorney Stefan Passantino called the commercial "a defamatory communication which exposes this station to potential civil liability" in a letter sent to television stations, NBC Politics reports.
Passantino goes on to demand that stations refuse and cease airing the advertisements.
The ad, released Thursday by the pro-Romney Restore our Future political action committee, says "Newt was fined $300,000 for ethics violations."
But the Gingrich campaign argues that the payment was made simply to reimburse the House Ethics Committee for costs of the investigation into whether Gingrich had violated federal tax law. It noted that nowhere in the report sanctioning Gingrich is the amount referred to as a "fine."
But a lawyer for the PAC told NBC that the charge is substantiated and that he had heard of no networks refusing the ad because of Gingrich's threat.
"Although it is understandable that Mr. Gingrich wishes that he wasn't the only Speaker of the House in history to be fined (overwhelmingly by a bipartisan Congress) $300,000 for ethics violations, that is nonetheless his baggage to live with," Charles Spies, the Restore Our Future attorney, said in his own letter to networks.
Spies pointed to media reports that referred to the $300,000 payment as a fine, and a PolitiFact report that dismissed Gingrich's complaints about the ads.
Gingrich aggressively attacked Restore our Future after the group aired a relentless campaign of negative commercials during the Iowa caucuses, which Gingrich blamed for his disappointing fourth-place finish. Since then, the former Speaker has targeted Romney and the group, airing his own set of ads that aggressively challenge the former Massachusetts governor's economic and anti-abortion record.