Stein campaign, Republican PAC in staredown over cease-and-desist letter, NC campaign ad

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — A political action committee that produced a campaign ad critical of Attorney General Josh Stein says it’s not removing the ad despite receiving a cease-and-desist letter from the AG’s re-election campaign.

The Old North PAC, an entity of the Republican Attorneys General Association, responded to the letter from attorneys representing Stein’s campaign with a two-page letter of their own.

CBS17.com obtained a copy of that letter, and in it, attorneys for the PAC called the cease-and-desist letter “a blatant, desperate political maneuver” and an “attempt to stymy the marketplace of ideas and First Amendment.” The ad was still viewable online Tuesday and the attorneys wrote that the PAC stands by it.

Stein is facing Republican challenger Jim O’Neill in the general election in November, and the PAC and the association support O’Neill in that race.

The cease-and-desist letter, sent by Raleigh law firm Womble Bond Dickinson on Sept. 4 to the Old North PAC’s address in Washington, called for the group to stop disseminating the ad and said failure to do so would trigger unspecified “further action.” 

The letter asked the group to confirm compliance by Sept. 10 — the date on the response from D.C.-based law firm Dickinson Wright.

CBS17.com asked Stein campaign spokesman Eric Stern what the next step would be if the PAC failed to comply, but Stern did not provide a direct response.

Stern did say Tuesday that he was “pleased” that the group has “not aired this false ad on TV even once” since the campaign’s letter. But Kelly Laco, a spokeswoman for the PAC and the association, said the ad was produced solely for digital audiences and was never meant to be shown on television.

The initial letter was sent after CBS17.com began its fact-checking investigation into two claims in the ad — that Stein was “silent” when some Black Lives Matter protests earlier this summer turned violent, and that he “supports reduced sentences for violent criminals.”

When Stein was in the state Senate 11 years ago, he did vote for two bills that changed the scale of the point system on the sentencing grid, which could result in shorter sentences for some repeat felons.

But during the fact-check, Stern said those votes were cast “to rationalize our sentencing schedules to make them fairer,” that he “does not believe sentences for violent criminals should be reduced” and that lawmakers of both parties have “reaffirmed” those sentencing guidelines in the decade-plus since.

The investigation also found a statement on the AG’s official website issued in June shortly after the George Floyd protests, calling the rioting “unacceptable” and calling for wrongdoers to be held accountable.

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