Fox News accused in lawsuit of trying to influence Georgia congressional race

Wayne Johnson, who finished third in last month's GOP primary in the 2nd Congressional District, has filed suit against Fox News and Jeremy Hunt, the top vote-getter in that primary. The suit alleges that the network and Hunt conspired to get Hunt elected to the U.S. House seat in southwest Georgia. AJC file

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Wayne Johnson, who finished third in last month's GOP primary in the 2nd Congressional District, has filed suit against Fox News and Jeremy Hunt, the top vote-getter in that primary. The suit alleges that the network and Hunt conspired to get Hunt elected to the U.S. House seat in southwest Georgia. AJC file

Wayne Johnson, who finished third in the Republican primary in Georgia’s 2nd Congressional District, is suing Fox News and Jeremy Hunt, the candidate who finished first, on allegations of racketeering and conspiring to get Hunt elected to the congressional seat.

In this rare Republican-against-Fox News fight, Johnson says that the network and national Republicans are ignoring federal election regulations in their effort to get Hunt elected in the southwest Georgia district.

Johnson and Hunt were both at the Bibb County GOP meeting Thursday night, along with the second-place finisher and Hunt’s opponent in Tuesday’s runoff, Chris West.

Hunt and Johnson wrangled about the lawsuit during the meeting, according to WMGT-TV Channel 41 in Macon.

The trouble, Johnson said, started in February when Hunt continued to appear on Fox platforms and have access to the network’s conservative audience after he joined the race. Hunt had been a frequent Fox News guest before he declared his candidacy.

WRBL’s Chuck Williams reported that Johnson complained in writing to Fox News Channel CEO Suzanne Scott throughout the primary that Hunt was getting unfair and unequal airtime and using it to promote himself and raise money for his campaign. Johnson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Friday that he also tried speaking directly to Hunt.

Nothing changed, he said, and Fox News continued to invite Hunt for interviews that “morph into political advertisements that morph into fundraising, nothing short of a telethon.”

Fox News declined to comment.

Johnson said he doesn’t expect any immediate remedies, but he hopes that by getting the courts involved, the Federal Communications Commission will be forced to enforce “equal time” rules already in place. Those rules contain exceptions when candidates are participating in legitimate news interviews, but Johnson’s lawsuit alleges that Hunt’s Fox appearances are really to allow him to promote his campaign.

In a February appearance on Fox Business that Johnson complained about, Hunt spoke as a banner below him read, “Jeremy Hunt Georgia Congressional Candidate (R) Going Back to an ‘America First’ Approach.” At the end of the interview, host Larry Kudlow said, “It’s a terrific message, Jeremy. I hope you do fabulously well in your race.”

In another appearance on “Jesse Watters Primetime” on May 7, ostensibly to talk about the hosts of “The View” saying a Black American cannot also be a Republican, Hunt also spoke at length about his candidacy.

“We stand for faith, family and community, that’s what our campaign is all about,” he said. “Feel free to look at our website at JeremyforGeorgia.com.”

Hunt has also promoted his appearances on his Twitter campaign feed.

“Hearing that some are concerned about missing my last appearance on Fox. You can check it out here!” he wrote after a segment earlier this week.

In the civil racketeering lawsuit, Johnson calls Fox News an “unlawful enterprise” and accuses Hunt, Fox News and host Brian Kilmeade of using Fox resources, which “ultimately amount to mail and wire fraud,” to get Hunt elected.

“This civil action aims to ensure the integrity of Georgia’s elections,” a press release announcing the action states.

Hunt hit back at the lawsuit, telling WMGT on Thursday night, “It’s just ridiculous that we have Republicans suing other Republicans because they came in third place,” he said.

Hunt, a West Point graduate who is currently attending Yale Law School, is facing off against attorney and developer West in Tuesday’s GOP runoff. The winner of that race will face Democratic U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop in November.