Arizona Republican Representative David Schweikert was hit with a lawsuit by a Phoenix man who objected to being featured in campaign ads that implied Schweikert’s primary opponent, Elijah Norton, is gay and therefore unqualified to run for office.
The man, Leslie Hammon, says he was surprised when he discovered a mailer Schweikert sent out to voters shows Hammond—with his face blurred—and Norton arm-in-arm while facing the camera.
According to court documents, Hammon says he never gave permission for the use of the image, which he notes he and Norton took outside a Phoenix bar in 2018. He says the two have never been more than casual friends.
“I've had people from work recognize this photo,” Hammon told local news outlet KPNX about the mailer, which says, “Elijah Norton isn't being straight with you." Hammon said the mailer is "extremely unsettling because I am openly out" and said it constitutes a major breach of his own privacy.
You can see the image used in the mailer, which has also been used for a street sign claiming Norton is unqualified to run, below.
Hammon says his mental health has slipped significantly since Schweikert's campaign sent out more than 50,000 of these mailers around the district. His lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, also names Americans for Accountability in Leadership, a pro-Schweikert PAC that has promoted the ads on social media networks.
The lawsuit also says the following:
“Schweikert’s advertisements are intended to convey, and clearly do convey, a message that gay people do not belong in Congress or any other public office."
"They also clearly convey the patently false assertion that Hammon and Norton are currently or have previously been in a romantic or sexual relationship."
“Pandering to homophobic narratives in the hopes of being re-elected is truly despicable and demeaning to the congressional office."
Schweikert's campaign has refused to apologize for the ads, saying in an official statement that "Norton's egregious history of callously defrauding consumers, and filling up their cell phones with his illegal car warranty robocalls is well documented in courthouses all across the country."
But the image soon went viral and many have criticized Schweikert's campaign for engaging in defamatory behavior.
Schweikert has proven himself a controversial figure since he entered Congress in 2010 following two failed bids for a seat in the House of Representatives.
The House formally reprimanded him in 2020 for 11 violations of ethics rules after he attempted to cover up his financial malfeasance in official campaign finance reports.
He has since come under fire for his hardline stance against reproductive rights, recently backing the Supreme Court's decision to dismantle them when it overturned Roe v. Wade.
Prior to that, he voted against the second impeachment of former President Donald Trump for his role in inciting the attack against the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021, the day a mob of his supporters attacked the nation's seat of government on the falsehood that the 2020 general election had been stolen.