A law firm representing World View Enterprises is demanding that television stations stop broadcasting a “false and defamatory” political advertisement centered on the Tucson company.
World View CEO Ryan Hartman said cease-and-desist letters were sent Thursday to any Arizona stations that aired the new ad from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which accuses Senate candidate Mark Kelly and World View of keeping $15 million in taxpayer money while failing to live up to a promise to create jobs.
According to the letter from the Cooley law firm, the ad is filled with misleading statements and factual errors about World View and its 2016 economic development deal with Pima County.
“Your station must cease airing this advertisement immediately to prevent any further harm to this company and its reputation,” the letter states.
Hartman said the action has nothing to do with politics.
“It is not OK for uninformed people to make false and defamatory claims about this company,” he said. “It’s damaging, and we’re always going to speak up.”
It was unclear Thursday which specific stations received letters or how they planned to respond.
“The only answer that we’re looking for is for the ads to be taken down,” Hartman said.
The 30-second spot released earlier this week by the GOP fundraising group backing incumbent Sen. Martha McSally features a man without a helmet riding a motorcycle down the road as claims about Kelly pop up on the screen. The ad never mentions World View by name. Instead, it accuses “Kelly’s company” of promising 400 jobs “to get 15 million bucks from taxpayers,” then keeping the money and asking for more, even though it “barely hired 100 people.”
The letter from World View’s law firm calls almost every part of that “false and deceptive.”
“The $15 million was never received by World View, much less kept. The $15 million was used by Pima County to build a facility that Pima County still owns,” the letter states. “World View entered into a lease agreement with the county and is paying the county for continued use.”
Under its 20-year lease, the high-altitude balloon company agreed to gradually increase its workforce from 100 employees in the first four years of operation to at least 400 by the final five years of the contract.
“To call a promise that World View has 10 more years to fulfill ‘just hot air,’ or ‘empty talk,’ as Merriam-Webster defines it, is not only false, it is defamation,” Cooley attorney Alex Kassai writes in the letter.
“World View takes its contractual obligations to the county incredibly seriously, and the NRSC has no foundation to make any claim to the contrary.”
The cease-and-desist letter also notes that Kelly left the company in 2019, six years after he co-founded it, and has no current role there.
The NRSC responded late Thursday afternoon with another accusation, that Kelly himself put World View up to drafting the letter.
“Clearly Mark Kelly feels his failed promises as a businessman are coming back to haunt his campaign, so he’s now asked the company he co-founded to make legally baseless and illogical claims to try and discredit legitimate criticism of his actions,” NRSC spokeswoman Joanna Rodriguez said in a written statement, without offering any proof.
“Kelly has hypocritically decried corporate money in politics despite personally becoming a multimillionaire through different corporate relationships, and now he’s potentially benefiting directly from corporate interference in Arizona’s Senate race.”
Kelly campaign spokesman Jacob Peters said World View, not Kelly, demanded the ads be taken down.
Peters said the campaign expects groups like NRSC to “make false attacks against Mark — it’s exactly the same playbook they ran and lost on last time — but they shouldn’t lie about an Arizona business.”
Hartman said the letters were being sent only to the stations — and not the NRSC itself — because broadcasters are required under their licenses to protect the public from false or deceptive advertising.
The McSally campaign and others have been circulating TV spots with similar claims about Kelly and World View for weeks.
Asked if his company plans to take action against those ads or try to get such messages scrubbed from social media sites, Hartman said, “We’re going to be consistent with our response.”
County officials also have begun to push back against attacks on the deal with the aerospace company.
Last week, Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry issued a scathing seven-page letter — with more than 80 pages of exhibits — blasting what he called a “coordinated campaign” to damage World View by county Supervisor Ally Miller, a right-wing political blog and the Goldwater Institute, a Phoenix-based conservative think tank that unsuccessfully sued the county over the development deal.
World View was founded in 2013 to carry tourists on high-priced flights into the stratosphere. It has since shifted focus and is now marketing its Stratollite balloon vehicles as unmanned research platforms that can stay aloft for months at a time, allowing for things like Earth imaging and atmospheric monitoring at a fraction of the cost of orbital satellites.
The company operates out of a facility the county built for it south of Tucson International Airport. Hartman was named chief executive in March 2019.
As of his most recent financial disclosure, Kelly still owned at least $100,000 in World View corporate securities.
Contact reporter Henry Brean at firstname.lastname@example.org or 520-573 4283. On Twitter: @RefriedBrean