Television stations in the Philadelphia region have stopped airing a super PAC's ad alleging that Democratic congressional candidate Scott Wallace helped pay for convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal's legal defense.
Maureen Faulkner, widow of the police officer Abu-Jamal was found guilty of murdering, claims in the spot that Wallace "funded Jamal's legal defense through an organization that has given my husband's killer a public voice for the last 21 years."
The super PAC Defending Main Street has provided no evidence that Wallace, a multimillionaire philanthropist running for Bucks County's First District seat, donated to Abu-Jamal's legal defense or appeals.
Instead, the group cites as documentation for its claim a media report about controversial donations that Wallace's family foundation made to Democracy Now!, a liberal news organization. Earlier this year, a website called Times Herald News republished a Fox News article that reported the Wallace Global Fund gave $3 million to Democracy Now! between 2003 and 2016.
The media outlet has provided Abu-Jamal with a platform "at least 20 times," according to Fox, and its coverage has been favorable. Abu-Jamal has maintained his innocence.
Scott Thomas, an attorney for Defending Main Street, said in a letter addressed to local TV stations that "by funding Democracy Now!, the Wallace efforts have funded Abu-Jamal's numerous defense-related assertions and theories."
But Wallace does not control Democracy Now!'s editorial content, and it is not accurate to say that Wallace funded Abu-Jamal's legal defense. Donating to a media outlet sympathetic to Abu-Jamal's claims is not the same as paying his lawyers.
Adam Bonin, an attorney for Wallace, said that "at no time did Wallace provide funding" for that.
The Wallace campaign sent a cease-and-desist letter to Comcast and WPVI-TV on Thursday, shortly after the ad was released, that called its claim a "totally unfounded and false statement."
A spokesperson for Comcast's advertising sales division said the cable TV company suspended the spot on Saturday after reviewing the Wallace campaign's letter.
The ad has been pulled "pending receipt and review of the advertiser's written response to the letter and documentation substantiating the claim," the spokesperson said.
WPVI-TV confirmed in an email obtained by the Inquirer and Daily News that it, too, would suspend the ad. The ABC station declined to comment.
Defending Main Street reserved enough time for the ad to air for two weeks starting on Thursday, according to conservative website the Daily Caller.
But now the super PAC claims it only wanted the spot to air until last Friday.
Defending Main Street said a different version of the ad, which leaves out any mention of funding Abu-Jamal's legal defense, began airing today. Comcast said it would "schedule it to air once it is processed in the normal course of business."
"The power of this ad is not seen or heard through one line that Scott Wallace and his team happen to be uncomfortable with," said Sarah Chamberlain, president of Defending Main Street. "What's uncomfortable for Pennsylvania voters is that Wallace helped give Mumia Abu-Jamal, a convicted cop killer, a public and sympathetic platform."
Zoe Wilson-Meyer, a spokesperson for the Wallace campaign, said, "In what world would Defending Main Street put this ad up with the intention of taking it down? That's a ridiculous claim, and as the Philadelphia Inquirer previously confirmed, this attack is intentionally misleading to the voters of PA-01 and has been called 'race-baiting' and a 'Willie Horton-style smear.'"
This isn't the first time that Wallace's political foes have attempted to link him to Abu-Jamal, who is serving a life sentence in the 1981 murder of Officer Daniel Faulker. Wallace's Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, began broadcasting an ad in September that said Wallace's foundation donated to "a liberal organization that has given a voice to the convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal."
Fitzpatrick’s seat is one of Democrats' top targets in their campaign to take back the U.S. House next month. Political analysts have rated the race as a toss-up, and a recent poll by the New York Times found Wallace ahead of Fitzpatrick by seven points. Previous surveys, including one released this month, showed Fitzpatrick in the lead.