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Slander lawsuit filed against creators of Whipple attack ad

Published: Oct. 29, 2019 at 4:29 PM CDT
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Wichita mayoral candidate Brandon Whipple has filed a lawsuit seeking $75,000 in damages against the people he says created an attack ad to slander his name.

The lawsuit filed on Tuesday names Matthew Colborn, Protect Wichita's Girls LLC, John Doe #1 and John Doe #2 as defendants in the case.

The lawsuit claims that after

published an investigative article stating that current Mayor Jeff Longwell steered a contract for the new water treatment plant to his friends, Longwell supporters "entered into a civil conspiracy to publish defamatory claims with the intent of harming his (Whipple's) candidacy."

Court documents claim Protect Wichita's Girls LLC, the group behind the ad which urges voters to "Stop Brandon Whipple," was incorporated on Oct. 10 in New Mexico with a forwarding address to Wyoming.

The lawsuit states most people who form New Mexico LLCs do not live in the state, but its laws are "popular with those attempting to hide their identities."

The lawsuit goes on to claim "John Doe #1 hired Matthew Colborn, who has produced fluff pieces about Mayor Longwell."

It then states Colborn hired several young women and paid them $50 through Cash App "to pose in a hit piece as young girls who had been sexually harassed by the plaintiff."

The lawsuit then states the girls went to an address on South Broadway and were told they were producing a Public Service Announcement against domestic violence.

"They were given scripts and were not told what they were talking about. Colborn repeatedly reassured the girls that the ad was not a big deal and to read the script and it would all be over in ten minutes," the lawsuit claims.

The ad pieces together claims from an October 31, 2017, article that was published in the

Kansas City Star

. Eyewitness News fact-checked the ad on Oct. 22 and found "

."

The lawsuit calls the ad "a disgusting false and defamatory hit piece cobbled together." It goes on to claim the ad has been run thousands of times on YouTube and John Doe #2 paid to boost its reach on Facebook and YouTube.

The lawsuit also claims a Facebook group was created around the ad on Oct. 16 and "already has over 41,000 views."

The lawsuit claims the "defendants believe that they can influence an election by posting horribly false and defamatory statements about the plaintiff".

It goes on to say, "the defamatory statements were made maliciously and were intended to expose the plaintiff to public contempt and ridicule and to deprive him of the benefits of public confidence."

Again, Whipple is seeking $75,000 in damages and "respectfully prays for a judgment clearing his good name."

Longwell, Whipple, Councilman Clendenin respond

When the ad came out earlier this month, Eyewitness News asked Mayor Jeff Longwell if he knew who was behind it. At that time, he condemned the ad and called it "

."

Tuesday, the mayor was in Washington, D.C. sitting on a panel with the National League of Cities. He issued the following response via text.

"Our understanding is the person has no connection with our campaign and we absolutely condemn these type(s) of ads".

We also spoke with City Councilman James Clendenin about the ad after finding out that he and Republican state representative Michael Capps share office space with Colborn.

We asked him if he knew Colborn was involved.

"I don't pay attention to what he does on a day-to-day basis. My office is kind of separated off and I'm working on a business brokerage. He works on what he works on. He comes and goes a lot and I come and go a lot. I know that he has a media company and works as a campaign manager for sure," said Clendenin.

Clendenin says Colborn works as the campaign manager for Capps.

We reached out to Brandon Whipple who said he didn't want to comment too much on the lawsuit right now. He said he's trying to concentrate on the positive aspects of his campaign for mayor.

Tuesday night, Eyewitness News spoke with Wichita voters about whether the ad could impact their decision election day.

Wichita voter Naythan Smith says he supports Jeff Longwell, but does find the attack ad against Whipple and what is claimed in the lawsuit to be distasteful. He also says it's disturbing that outside groups are trying to influence the election by taking what he says is a prominent issue in society and using it for political gain.

"So if this is something that is actually just slanderous and not real, it's really kind of unfortunate that they're utilizing something that is a concern in the community, but may not necessarily be related to what's actually happening," Smith says.

He says he would rather not see the attack-style campaigning come to define Wichita's mayoral election, especially since it's a local race.