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.

THE BIG QUESTION...

as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot. That's what Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein tackles in her annual December column—"Billionaires Are Not the Answer"—about the state of journalism and our plans for the year ahead.

We can't afford to let independent reporting depend on the goodwill of the superrich: Please help Mother Jones build an alternative to oligarchy that is funded by and answerable to its readers. Please join us with a tax-deductible, year-end donation so we can keep going after the big stories without fear, favor, or false equivalency.

THE BIG QUESTION...

as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot.

Please read our annual column about the state of journalism and Mother Jones' plans for the year ahead, and help us build an alternative to oligarchy by supporting our people-powered journalism with a year-end gift today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.