PHOENIX — Republican Congressman David Schweikert is being sued for defamation by a Phoenix man over what he calls a “homophobic" ad campaign against Schweikert’s opponent, Elijah Norton
Mailers and street signs paid for by the Schweikert campaign show Leslie Hammon, with his face blurred, standing next to Norton, in a photo that Hammon says was shot at a club four years ago. Hammon and Norton are friends.
The text on the mailer says, “Elijah Norton isn't being straight with you”; the street signs read, “Elijah Norton Unfit for Congress.”
“I've had people from work recognize this photo,” Hammon, who is 34, said in an interview Tuesday at his home.
“It's extremely unsettling because I am openly out. But at what point is my privacy going to be respected?”
Hammon sent a cease-and-desist letter to Schweikert in June, after the street signs went up.
The lawsuit says Schweikert never responded.
The mailers were sent to voters in late June.
“They sent out what we believe is 50,000 mailers,” Hammon said. “At that point, I was like, ‘Really’? My mental health took a nosedive.”
The Schweikert ads are “extremely over the line,” Bridget Sharpe, the Arizona state director for Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group.
“This is harkening back to decades ago when gay people were afraid to come out of the closet.”
The lawsuit, filed in Maricopa County Superior Court, also names Americans for Accountability in Leadership, a pro-Schweikert PAC. The PAC has promoted the ads on social media.
“Schweikert’s advertisements are intended to convey, and clearly do convey, a message that gay people do not belong in Congress or any other public office,” the lawsuit says.
“They also clearly convey the patently false assertion that Hammon and Norton are currently or have previously been in a romantic or sexual relationship.
“Pandering to homophobic narratives in the hopes of being re-elected is truly despicable and demeaning to the congressional office.*
The suit seeks unspecified damages.
Hammon acknowledged that Norton was paying for the legal team.
A Schweikert spokesman issued this statement:
"Elijah Norton's egregious history of callously defrauding consumers, and filling up their cell phones with his illegal car warranty robocalls is well documented in courthouses all across the country. The voters of Arizona's First Congressional District are smart. They saw Norton for the con artist he is from the start and his baseless lawsuits aren't going to change that."
Schweikert has a history of using gay-themed sexual innuendo in campaign materials.
In 2012, Schweikert targeted fellow Republican Congressman Ben Quayle during their bitter primary over what was a safe Republican seat.
A Schweikert mailer claimed Quayle *goes both ways,” suggesting he was bisexual.
Two years later, Schweikert emailed an invitation to supporters with the subject line, "Politics is not for pansies.”
Schweikert, Norton and Josh Barnett are running in the Republican primary in the new 1st Congressional District, taking in parts of central Phoenix, Scottsdale, Paradise Valley and Fountain Hill.
The redrawn district is rated as “highly competitive” in a general election.
Schweikert has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump.
Schweikert faces his toughest primary challenge to date as he deals with the fallout from a House ethics investigation.
The six-term congressman was slapped with a rare reprimand two years ago by the full House of Representatives and fined $50,000, for years of misspending by his office and campaign finance irregularities.
Norton, who moved to Arizona five years ago, founded a vehicle warranty and service business. He has come under fire from Schweikert for alleged consumer abuses by his warranty company.
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