COLUMBIA — Republican candidate for governor Catherine Templeton is demanding television stations stop airing a political attack ad that claims she was fired from the state's public health and tax agencies.
In a cease-and-desist letter sent to TV networks around the state, Templeton's lawyer said the ad created by The Palmetto PAC "blatantly misrepresents Ms. Templeton's job history and lies about her state employment to mislead South Carolina voters."
Chris Gober, the Texas attorney hired by the Templeton campaign to stop the ads, said his firm sent letters to representatives of about 20 TV stations and cable providers where the ad was sold. The ad is scheduled to air through the June 12 primary in all major South Carolina TV markets, according to documents filed with the Federal Communications Commission.
The dispute over the commercial comes as the race has grown increasingly contentious in the lead-up to the June 12 primary. Gov. Henry McMaster's campaign recently launched their own attack ad against Templeton, highlighting her vote for a Democrat for governor in 2010 and support she has received from a group that once opposed President Donald Trump.
The Palmetto PAC ad uses a clip of Trump saying his famous catchphrase "You're fired" as it lists three state government jobs from which Templeton was allegedly ousted: the State Ports Authority, the Department of Revenue and the Department of Health and Environmental Control.
Sources with direct knowledge told The Post and Courier that then-Gov. Nikki Haley ordered Templeton's ouster from the health agency. Haley, now the United Nations ambassador, and former DHEC board chairman Allen Amsler pushed back, saying Templeton resigned.
Gober pointed to the statements from Haley and Amsler, as well as a press release from the time announcing Templeton's resignation, as evidence that the claims are "provably false."
The Templeton campaign also refutes the allegation that she was fired from the Department of Revenue.
Tim Pearson, a former Haley chief of staff and political strategist now leading McMaster's campaign, tweeted in January that Templeton did not willingly leave her $12,500-a-month technology security consultant job with the state’s tax agency.
The agency director at the time, Rick Reames, said Templeton left because her work was completed a little more than two months into a nine-month contract.
The Palmetto PAC stands by the ad and has no plans to pull it, said Carlo LoParo, a spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based group.
"It's truthful," LoPoro said, adding that the PAC would send their own letter to the TV stations "affirming the truthfulness of the ad."
The ad is airing on 12 stations in Columbia, Charleston, Greenville and Myrtle Beach, according to a review of online federal records. The PAC is spending $304,000 on those ads.
Gober said he did not know what the campaign would do if broadcasters continued airing the 30-second spot. A spokesman for Templeton's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Andrew Disper, a Greenville station WYFF advertising executive named in the letter obtained by The Post and Courier, declined comment Wednesday. General managers at WLTX in Columbia and WCBD in Charleston confirmed they had also received the cease-and-desist letter and their lawyers were determining next steps as of Wednesday afternoon.
"Our policy has always been to take it very seriously," said WCBD general manager Gray Soapes. "It is not uncommon to get these sort of things on a regular basis, so we need to do our due diligence to make sure we pay close attention to it and make sure we're not doing either side any harm."
The Associated Press reported that several stations owned by Sinclair Broadcasting Group, which includes WPDE in Myrtle Beach and Florence and WCIV in Charleston, have pulled the ad. LaParo said Wednesday evening that the PAC had still not received word from any stations that they are taking down the ad.
Messages left with managers at several other major S.C. stations were not immediately returned.