The conservative-leaning network has hired Larry Noble, a well-known attorney at the firm Skadden Arps, to defend itself against a suit filed during the height of the 2010 campaign by the Democratic Governor's Association.
In a filing with the Ohio Elections Commission in late November, Noble argued that the allegations leveled by the DGA were not just baseless but also designed to have a "chilling effect" on future press coverage.
In early August, the Democratic campaign arm accused Fox of illegally helping to raise money on behalf of incoming Ohio Governor John Kasich (R-Ohio) by running a chyron featuring his website at the same time that he was soliciting donations during an interview on Bill O'Reilly's show.
Filed shortly after it was reported that Fox's parent company, NewsCorp. had made a million dollar donation to the Republican Governor's Association, the DGA's complaint seemed politically-motivated. And in his response, Noble makes the case that there was little precedent to interpret campaign finance law with such sweeping conclusions.
"If, based on this thin complaint, the Commission finds a violation or allows this matter to proceed, the Commission's decision will raise serious Constitutional questions and have an immediate chilling effect on the news media's ability to report and comment on Ohio state elections and candidates," Noble writes.
Asked for a response, DGA Executive Director Nathan Daschle defended the initial complaint on its merits. Other networks, he insisted, don't publish the campaign websites of candidates for the express purpose of not violating campaign finance restrictions. And besides: "Why doesn't [Fox] do the same for Democrats?"
Daschle main argument, however, was more self-evident. If Fox thought the suit was baseless, would they have turned to Skadden and Noble for a defense?
"The fact that they had to call in one of the nation's most preeminent law firms and this response has been submitted by one of the preeminent campaign finance lawyers means this is not the trivial matter they suggested it was," he said.
Perhaps so. But it's hard to judge the gravity of a legal matter strictly by the quality of the firms or lawyers hired to argue it.
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