Under threat of possible legal action by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Kathleen Sebelius, Sunflower Broadband, the Lawrence cable television company, has pulled two commercials critical of Sebelius.
The commercials were put together by a political action committee called Citizens for Responsible Government. The committee is headed by Chris Miller, a Lawrence attorney who has had a long-running legal battle with Sebelius.
Its treasurer is Richard Todd of Lawrence, the son of Ron Todd, whom Sebelius defeated in 1994 for state insurance commissioner.
The commercials aired for one day this week before the Sebelius campaign got wind of them and demanded they stop.
According to the Sebelius campaign, the ads contained false statements, and under Federal Communications Commission rules on issue ads, airing those ads could have made Sunflower liable to damages in a civil lawsuit.
"We will continue to monitor your station and reserve the right to pursue all legal remedies available in the event you continue to air this false ad," Sebelius' elections attorney, LJ Leatherman, wrote in a letter to Sunflower.
But Miller said the ads were "absolutely true."
Both Miller and Leatherman submitted documentation to back up their separate claims to Mark Kern, advertising sales manager for Sunflower Broadband.
Kern said he had decided to pull the ads.
"I felt that the advertisements had put the company at risk," Kern said.
Miller has been fighting in court with Sebelius for years. Shortly after taking office in 1995, Sebelius alleged Miller, who had been a political ally of Ron Todd's, overbilled the Insurance Department in handling workers' compensation cases. Sebelius essentially banned Miller from handling any more cases within the Insurance Department fund.
He denied the allegation and filed a lawsuit against Sebelius. After years of legal wrangling, it is set to go to trial Nov. 12.
According to a memorandum from the Kansas Legislative Research Department, the lawsuit has cost the state at least $200,000 since 1996.
Miller provided a letter to the Lawrence Journal-World that showed he was willing to settle the lawsuit in July for $1 "and an admission by your clients that he has been inappropriately accused of improprieties, in connection with their dispute with him."
Sebelius refused the offer and has a counterclaim on behalf of the state against Miller for $400,000, a campaign spokesman said.
About the political ads, Miller said Sebelius wanted to stifle "the free discussion of ideas."
Miller said the decision by Sunflower and a Topeka station not to air the ads "displays a considerable lack of courage."
Miller said that if the ads were untrue, Sebelius certainly had enough campaign money to place ads that try to refute his allegations.
The World Company owns Sunflower and the Lawrence Journal-World.