Ben Cayetano wants Honolulu’s local TV stations to stop airing certain ads by the Pacific Resource Partnership, otherwise he might include them as defendants in a defamation lawsuit he lodged last week.

On Monday, Cayetano’s attorney, Jim Bickerton, sent letters to the general managers of Hawaii News Now, KHON and KITV saying they could be culpable for damaging his client’s reputation by knowingly running PRP attack ads that include misleading and possibly inaccurate information.

In the letter, Bickerton said there needs to be “immediate action” to prevent further harm to Cayetano’s character. Bickerton wants the managers to “cease and desist” from airing any of PRP’s ads until each station has verified the allegations made in the commercials.

Specifically, Bickerton said the allegations that must be confirmed are that Cayetano “broke campaign spending laws, engaged in quid pro quo bribery and kept six figure sums of illegal contributions for his own personal use.”

“We do not believe that your station actually believes that such statements are true and there is therefore no lawful or proper reason for you to continue to publish them,” Bickerton wrote. “You are certainly under no lawful obligation to publish such statements in these circumstances.”

He expanded on this notion Tuesday in a phone interview with Civil Beat, saying it’s not the attacks that bother his client, it’s the veracity of the claims in the attacks.

“We’re not urging an end to the negative campaigning,” Bickerton said. “We’re simply saying that those items that are factually false and defamatory should be reviewed before they’re published by the television station or any media outlet.”

While TV stations are federally required to run candidates’ political ads without any form of censorship, that rule does not apply to third-parties, such as PRP.

In fact, ever since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that allowed unlimited spending by third parties, other groups, such as, have been pushing stations to keep inaccurate attack ads off the air.

Cayetano said in an interview with Civil Beat on Tuesday that the letter doesn’t necessarily mean he’s planning on including Hawaii News Now, KHON and KITV in his lawsuit against PRP. But he did make clear that there was a “reason” for sending the letter to the stations.

“That’s a cease and desist letter and basically it puts the TV stations on notice that they have a duty to look at the content of the TV ads that are being run,” Cayetano said. “Unlike newspapers, unlike Civil Beat or anything else, the news stations are federally licensed so the (Federal Communications Commission) has set a higher standard for them in terms of what they put on the air.”

It’s unclear at this whether any of the local TV stations will pull any of PRP’s ads. Civil Beat left messages with the general managers for Hawaii News Now and KITV. KHON General Manager Joe McNamara said his station did get the letter, but that he would not be able to comment on it.

Honolulu attorney Jeff Portnoy is representing PRP and its executive director, John White, in the defamation lawsuit. Portnoy is one of Honolulu’s most well-known and well-respected First Amendment attorneys.

On Tuesday, he said his clients did not have any plans to comment publicly on the lawsuit.

Here’s the letter Bickerton sent to Hawaii News Now. The letters to the other TV stations are identical.

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