Herschel Walker, the Georgia Republican Senate candidate, is threatening to take legal action against a $1.5 million TV attack ad campaign by a liberal group that his lawyers claim is "defamatory" and promotes "false allegations" about Walker’s veterans’ advocacy work.
Walker’s legal team is demanding that network and cable TV stations in Georgia pull the advertisement by left-leaning political action committee VoteVets, according to a letter to the stations obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. The VoteVets ad, which features a Purple Heart recipient, claims Walker "lied" to veterans by promoting a health services program that was linked to allegations of fraud.
The news comes as Democrats are working to hit Walker on character issues, following recent reports that he had three children out of wedlock while criticizing absentee fathers. Walker’s allies are slamming VoteVet's latest campaign as "gutter politics," and the letter from his lawyers indicates he is ready to fight back hard against what he perceives as unfair attacks on his background and integrity.
"The advertisement shows zero evidence to substantiate the claim that Herschel Walker lied to veterans," said Walker attorney Stefan Passantino in the letter. "To construe this as lying to veterans is defamation in its clearest form."
The VoteVets ad takes aim at Walker’s work for Patriot Support, a health services program for veterans run by Universal Health Services, one of the largest hospital chains in the country. UHS hired Walker as a spokesman for the veterans’ outreach program more than a decade ago, and he left the position last year.
UHS has faced allegations of fraud at some of its facilities. The Department of Justice charged the hospital group with falsifying medical records and billing for unnecessary treatments, in an effort to defraud the government. UHS settled the case for $122 million in 2020, without directly admitting to the claims.
While the VoteVets ad attempted to tie Walker to the malpractice, citing an Associated Press story on the controversy, the AP report said there was "no suggestion [Walker] was directly involved in any wrongdoing at the hospitals."
Passantino asked that the advertisement "be removed from your airwaves immediately" and warned that the candidate and former NFL star would consider legal action.
"Should such false and defamatory publication occur after receiving information in advance of publication of its falsehood, it can only be undertaken with actual malice and reckless disregard for the truth," Passantino added. "In that instance, we will act accordingly to protect our clients’ interests."
This isn’t the first time VoteVets has been hit with pushback against its ads. Fox News and Clear Channel declined to run some of the group’s commercials in past years, with Fox reportedly calling one ad confusing and Clear Channel saying it would conflict with its programming.
VoteVets is spending nearly $1.5 million on the anti-Walker campaign, which is set to run through July 23 across Georgia, including the Atlanta and Savannah markets. The group did not respond to a request for comment.
The Georgia Senate election, which could determine party control of the U.S. Senate next year, is expected to be one of the most contentious races of the midterms. Outside groups are already pouring tens of millions of dollars into the contest, which pits Walker against Democratic senator Raphael Warnock, who won the seat in a special election in 2020.
Walker’s campaign spokeswoman Mallory Blount blasted VoteVets as a "front organization for Chuck Schumer’s left-wing, dark money network" and called the attack ad a "bad faith and a shameful attempt to cover Senator Warnock’s horrible record on veterans." Blount noted that Warnock was heavily criticized during his 2020 campaign for claiming that "nobody can serve God and the military" at the same time.
Michael Dane Steele, a retired Army colonel who says he has known Walker for over 40 years, dismissed the VoteVets campaign as "nothing but bald-faced lies and gutter politics, made by [Walker's] opponents."
"The truth is that over the years Herschel has visited thousands and thousands of our young soldiers to encourage and support them," Steele told the Free Beacon. "I always know when he's visited a new installation because I'm inundated with emails, texts, and phone calls from excited troops, who want to express their sincere gratitude that Herschel will take the opportunity to spend time with them."