A Billionaire Sued Us. We Won. But We Still Have Big Legal Bills to Pay.


By now, you’ve probably read about Mother Jones‘ landmark legal win against Frank VanderSloot, a billionaire political donor. If you haven’t, you can read the full backstory here (it’s riveting). Or, if you’re feeling lazy, here’s the TL;DR version:

After the Citizens United decision allowed wealthy political donors to drastically increase their spending, we wrote a piece about one such donor: Frank VanderSloot. He and his company were among the biggest donors to Romney’s super-PAC. It was a straightforward bit of investigative reporting: letting readers know who was funding the campaign.

VanderSloot saw it differently. His lawyers sent us letters complaining about the piece. We didn’t retract our story, and in 2013 he sued us for defamation. Earlier this month, shortly before the case was set to go to trial, an Idaho judge dismissed the lawsuit, finding that our reporting was accurate and that the article was protected under the First Amendment.

It was a huge victory. We were up against a powerful billionaire and we won. But it came at a great cost: at least $2.5 million for us and our insurer, and $650,000 in out-of-pocket expenses for Mother Jones, to be precise. Everyone’s been asking whether we can recoup our attorney’s fees from VanderSloot, but unfortunately the answer is no.

The win means a lot to me, personally, too. As someone who writes about rich and powerful people, it’s good to know that the First Amendment is alive and well. And it makes me beyond proud to write for Mother Jones: Not too many other shops would have had the guts to fight back, but we knew you’d expect us to, and that you’d have our back if we took a stand.

If you haven’t already, can you pitch in to help us pay our legal bills? If you can, your donation will be doubled by First Look Media’s Press Freedom Litigation Fund—they’re matching up to $74,999 in donations (the same amount VanderSloot sued us for). You can give by credit card or PayPal.