A breakup between a Fresno congressional candidate and her former campaign management team is leading to bad blood and a pending court date.
Elizabeth Heng’s former campaign consultant filed suit against her after she fired the firm in June.
Heng’s attorney, Roger Bonakdar, said that the legal action is politically motivated.
DMI Direct filed suit in Fresno County Superior Court on Aug. 3, charging Heng with breach of contract. The company, with offices in Washington, D.C., and Lake Forest, Calif., says it handles accounts, mainly from Republican clients.
Erik Brown, the president of DMI, worked on Heng’s campaign.
According to legal documents, DMI provided Heng with a litany of campaign services for a contract running from Feb. 15 through Nov. 7, 2018. Heng paid DMI a $5,000 retainer fee, plus $5,000 a month for the first three months (through June 15). The contract called for payments of $7,500 a month from July through Nov. 15.
If Heng were to win the November election, DMI would have received a $25,000 bonus. DMI also received reimbursement for expenses.
The contract allowed termination for cause with 30-days’ notice. Cause included failure to pay invoices, willful misconduct, violation of any law, failure to perform, or being charged with a crime.
When asked why Heng terminated the contract, DMI’s Anthony Ramirez said, “I have no idea why.”
Heng’s attorney offered a different perspective.
“The services were grossly defective and deficient. The company does not appear to be equipped to assist a campaign in reaching voters, raising funds, and other scopes of services they were retained to provide,” Bonakdar said.
DMI is asking for at least $37,500 in damages.
The case won’t be heard until after the election. Judge Kimberly Gaab scheduled a case management conference for Nov. 26.
Bonakdar questioned the timing of the lawsuit.
“If this was just about a contract and payment, they would have waited until after the election was over. There is a four-year statute of limitations on a written contract. They did this because they thought it would exert force on Ms. Heng to settle,” he said.
“It has to be politically motivated. There is no reason to file now unless it was an intent to injure.”
Adding insult to insult, Bonakdar said, Heng is much better off since the separation, election results notwithstanding.
“The results had nothing to do with DMI. She would have done better without them. She has seen an uptick since shedding DMI,” he said.
Daniel Lula, the Irvine-based attorney for DMI, did not reply to GV Wire’s request for comment.
Heng, a Republican and a newcomer to running for office, made a competitive showing in the June primary. In the two-person race, incumbent Rep. Jim Costa (D-Fresno) won 53%-47%. The six-point separation surprised many pundits given their differentiating experience.
Heng received a renewed round of attention the past few weeks after Facebook removed, then restored, her political ad. Facebook initially deemed the video, which featured images of the Cambodian genocide, from which her family escaped, a violation of its terms of service because of the violent nature of the pictures.
Heng appeared on numerous national TV and radio programs, decrying the decision. After giving the ad another look, Facebook reversed course.
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