California Congresswoman Lois Capps, her campaign and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC)


In the 2014 midterm elections, Republican candidate Chris Mitchum unsuccessfully challenged Congresswoman Lois Capps for California’s 24th Congressional seat. The Capps campaign and the DCCC aired two ads featuring recordings of Mitchum stating that he “did not intend to go to Washington to represent the 24th District.”

Based on this alleged misquotation, Mitchum sued for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress in California Superior Court, The County of Santa Barbara. He purported that the quotation as used in the campaign ads altered his original meaning and portrayed him as a “hypocrite and narrow-minded ‘Tea Party’ advocate” and as someone who “had no intention of doing his job if elected.”


Congresswoman Capps, her campaign and the DCC Campaign Committee turned to a Perkins Coie team led by Washington, D.C. partner Marc Elias, chair of our Political Law practice, to defend against Mitchum’s claims. Cases involving the right to free speech under the First Amendment and political campaigns are typically complex, high profile and can require extensive resources.


The Perkins Coie team countered the Mitchum lawsuit decisively and expeditiously. We filed a motion to strike pursuant to California’s anti-Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (anti-SLAPP) Act. The anti-SLAPP statute provides for the early dismissal of suits based on acts taken in furtherance of the right to free speech under the First Amendment. It also provides mandatory attorneys’ fees for defendants who prevail on a motion to strike.

In moving to strike, we argued that the Capps campaign and the DCCC had not “materially altered” Mitchum’s meaning, as required by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Masson v. New Yorker, 501 U.S. 496 (1991), for defamation claims based on a quotation of a speaker’s words.

The court agreed that our clients’ quotation of Mitchum’s statement was accurate and granted the anti-SLAPP motion. Presiding Judge Donna D. Geck wrote in her decision, “[t]he ads do not suggest, as Mitchum argues, that he was not going to do his job. There are many members of Congress pursuing his goals while doing their job. The ads suggest that the agenda he would pursue in Washington is not in the interests of the 24th District. Whether that agenda is or is not in line with the voters of the district is up to them to decide.”
This “first-round knockout” of our client’s opponent shut down Mitchum’s lawsuit. Beyond saving our clients the expense and time of protracted litigation, the swift, definitive court victory shored up the right to free speech in the course of political campaigns.