O’Donnell, Capps and Clendenin added to attack ad lawsuit
WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Sedgwick County Commissioner Michael O’Donnell, State Representative Michael Capps and Wichita City Council member James Clendenin have been added to the lawsuit surrounding a false political attack ad aimed at, then Wichita Mayoral Candidate Brandon Whipple.
The lawsuit filed by Whipple’s attorney originally listed only Matthew Colborn and an organization called Protect Wichita Girls. Two unknown defendants were listed as “John Doe #1” and “John Doe #2.” In a petition filed with the Sedgwick County District Court, Mayor Whipple’s attorney names those John Does and adds another defendant following an investigation into their identities.
The false attack ad at the center of the lawsuit, titled "Protect Wichita Girls and Stop Brandon Whipple, was posted online ahead of the 2019 Wichita mayoral election. In it, female actors read lines making it appear as if Whipple had sexually harassed young women in the past. One actor read, “He just came up, looked at me, smiled and said, ‘Hey do your panties match your outfit?’” Factfinder 12 investigated those claims and found they were quotes from a Kansas City Star article that in no way applied or referred to Brandon Whipple.
In August of 2020, Matthew Colborn, the man who admitted to making the ad and the first to be listed as a defendant in the lawsuit, spoke with Factfinder 12. At the time, he said Sedgwick County Republican Party Chairman Dalton Glasscock asked him to produce the ad, but court documents filed on Tuesday (10/14) allege that the driving force behind the production of the false ad was Sedgwick County Commissioner Michael O’Donnell, aided by James Clendenin and Michael Capps.
The newly filed petition claims that on October 10, 2019, Protect Wichita’s Girls, LLC was issued a certificate of organization by the New Mexico Secretary of State and listed “Ray Manhattan” as a member of the company. In the documents, Whipple’s attorney claims Ray Manhattan does not exist and is a name sometimes used by State Representative Michael Capps in an attempt to hide his identity. The address listed for Ray Manhattan is a Wichita address the documents state is leased to Midwest Business Group, LLC and guaranteed by Michael Capps and Wichita City Council member James Clendenin.
The court petition asserts that James Clendenin served as the principal fundraiser for the video project to “add credibility to the effort,” and says that in mid-October of 2019, Clendenin reached out to Colborn asking him to watch Whipple’s new campaign video where Whipple was “Totally making himself look like a community family man.” It goes on to say Clendenin texted Colborn two days later telling him that his (Clendenin’s) involvement in the ad had been discovered and wanted to know who “burned him.” The documents go on the allege that efforts to hide the involvement of those involved failed because “O’Donnell bragged about the ad to political associates.”
On Halloween of 2019, the documents say O’Donnell sent a text message to Sedgwick County Republican Chair Dalton Glasscock informing him there would be news coverage concerning Michael Capps' possible involvement in the false attack ad. It says Glasscock was “furious and expressed belief that Capps could have cost,” then Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell, “the election.” Glasscock later asked Capps for his resignation, which he did not give. Capps was defeated by his opponent to retain his seat in the statehouse in the August 2020 primary election.
On Sunday, November 4, Capps appeared on a local conservative radio talk show to discuss the “Protect Wichita Girls” ad. Court documents allege he met with Clendenin and O’Donnell before the appearance to “discuss how to shift blame for the defamatory ad to others.” At that meeting, Whipple’s attorney writes in the petition the three men “concocted a story” to “Blame Dalton Glasscock and Sedgwick County Clerk Kelly Arnold for the hit piece,” and that at the end of the meeting, “O’Donnell reminded Capps of what he had learned in politics: Avoid the truth at all expense and just go on the attack.”
In the suit amended Tuesday, Whipple’s attorney, Randy Rathbun alleges that O’Donnell, Clendenin and Capps decided Arnold had too much support and that they would be better off not attempting to implicate him.
After the radio appearance, the petition claims Clendenin sent a text message to Matthew Colborn saying, “the best time for that video to disappear is now,” and to “delete the text string from me please LOL.” It says Clendenin then deleted his texts to avoid the Kansas Open Records Act.
Whipple’s attorney said he can prove the three men named in the lawuit were behind the attack ad. O’Donnell said that suit is politically motivated.
“I’m a conservative Republican. This is nothing more than a political hit job,” he said.
Capps and Clendenin are also Republicans and Whipple and his attorney are Democrats.
“Well, we all knew what the mayor was going to do. And they waited until the day that absentee ballots go out,” O’Donnell said. “So this is nothing more than a political hit job by the Democratic mayor supporting a Democrat that’s running against me.”
Rathbun, said he’s not surprised by O’Donnell’s response.
“I expected that I would hear something like this because I have heard him say (it) on a tape,” Rathbun said. “Now, that in a situation like this, avoid the truth at all costs and go on the attack.”
O’Donnell denies that accusation.
“That’s not true. That’s not true. And he could have done this months ago,” O’Donnell said. “I still haven’t given a deposition yet, so he has no evidence, only the word of Mr. Colborn who’s changed the story. Even Mr. Rathbun has acknowledged in your last interview that Mr. Colborn’s story has changed multiple times and that he doesn’t know what to believe.”
Asked to respond, Rathbun offered this.
“What I said was, ‘he’s changing his story on me, and I don’t know who to believe. And so, until I got a hold of evidence, good hard evidence, tape recordings, text... I know who to believe now, there’s no question. I can prove every word in here, and I’m going to."
FactFinder 12 reached Clendenin by phone Wednesday, but he offered no comment. Capps could not be reached. O’Donnell said he will counter with a lawsuit for defamation against Whipple and Colborn.
“On my father’s grave, I had nothing to do with this video, and we are going to be filing a lawsuit as well,” O’Donnell said.
Wednesday evening, the Sedgwick County Republican Party issued the following statement in response to the situation it describes as “gutter politics.”
We are disappointed and disheartened to see the news and new allegations this morning.
Ballots in Sedgwick County have been printed and in the process of being mailed and voters will begin to make their choices on who they wish to represent them this week. We believe that all voters should look seriously at the evidence before them and we trust voters at the ballot box to make an informed decision.
This reaffirms what we have said from the beginning, politics is about ideas, advancing those ideas through public discourse, and serving those in our community. We have made it abundantly clear that gutter politics will not be tolerated within our local party. Today’s evidence yet again reaffirms what Chairman Glasscock has stated from the beginning - that he had no involvement. The SCRP under the leadership of Glasscock is committed to winning on the issues and always doing what is right. Character counts.
Dalton Glasscock - Chair
Tonya Buckingham - Vice-Chair
Angela Caudillo - Secretary
Sheila Tigert - Treasurer
Ben Sauceda - Executive Director
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