JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – A renewable energy company is demanding that Gov. Tate Reeves’ campaign withdraw an ad that accuses the firm of illegally donating to Democratic challenger Brandon Presley.
Silicon Ranch Corporation, headquartered in Nashville and running operations in Mississippi and 14 other states, sent a “cease and desist” letter on Monday, Oct. 9, addressed to Reeves campaign manager Elliot Husbands.
“I write to demand that you immediately cease and desist airing and publishing the defamatory ad entitled ‘Signature,’” writes William Manuel, a Jackson-based attorney representing Silicon Ranch.
“With this notice, you should now immediately cease publishing the Advertisement in television broadcasts on local television stations, where you have aired it or caused it to be aired. Likewise, this demand extends to publication of the Advertisement on all internet platforms, including websites and social media.”
The ad, which has been broadcast on WJTV and other Mississippi TV stations, cites Mississippi Code 77-1-11, which bans public service commissioners, or PSC candidates, from accepting campaign contributions from public utilities. It suggests that Presley, as Public Service Commissioner for the Northern District, broke the law by accepting contributions from four employees of Silicon Ranch: Board Chairman Matthew Kisber, Chief Commercial Officer Matthew Beasley, Founding Chairman Philip Bredesen, and Chief Executive Officer Reagan Farr.
The Hattiesburg-based solar farm opened in 2017 and produces energy for approximately 6,500 homes. Silicon Ranch filed their dealings with the PSC on August 17, 2017.
Manuel writes, “The Advertisement contains audio falsely accusing employees of Silicon Ranch of “breaking the law” by making past political contributions in their personal capacity to the political campaign of Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley. Moreover, in separate frames, the Advertisement contains text falsely stating ‘Illegal Contributions’ made in reference to the same contributions.”
A letter to WJTV from Jessica Furst Johnson, counsel to the Reeves campaign, insists that the ad is accurate.
“Applicable law states, in relevant part, the following: ‘[i]t shall be unlawful for any public service commissioner…to knowingly accept any gift, pass, money, campaign contribution…either directly or indirectly, from any person interested as owner, agent or representative…of any… electric utility company…that shall come under the jurisdiction or supervision of the Public Service Commission’ (emphasis added),” Johnson writes.
Silicon Ranch’s attorney says the company itself made no corporate contributions to Commissioner Presley or any other candidate or campaign committee. And he says that, as Silicon Ranch is not a public utility, Code 77-1-11 does not apply.
“Therefore, any statement or implication that Silicon Ranch or its employees have violated the law by contributing to Commissioner Presley is wholly untrue and defamatory,” Manuel continues.
He concludes with a warning that “Silicon Ranch will pursue all available legal remedies to cease the publication of this defamatory advertisement, including seeking injunctive relief and damages,” if the campaign does not pull the ad from broadcasts.
Reeves campaign spokesman Clifton Carroll responded to 12 News’ request for comment Wednesday afternoon.
“Clearly, Brandon Presley and his donors are afraid of being caught using campaign donations to corruptly influence PSC actions,” Carroll writes. He did not say whether the campaign would remove the ads from broadcast.
Attorneys with WJTV’s parent company, Nexstar Broadcasting, are reviewing the request.