Voting systems manufacturer Smartmatic has sent legal letters to U.S. conservative news network Fox News, as well as its ultra-right cousins Newsmax and One America News Network, demanding they retract coverage spinning baseless conspiracy theories about the company’s role in the 2020 elections or face legal action.
Donald Trump, his campaign legal team including Rudy Giuliani, and political allies have rallied around a made-up theory that Smartmatic and another machine-assisted voting company, Dominion Voting Systems, rigged the vote in favour of Democrat Joe Biden. In interviews on the networks and a series of depraved press conferences, Giuliani and other campaign officials asserted election technology firms had coordinated an elaborate conspiracy to ensure countless votes for Trump were counted as for Biden. That included fabricated assertions that Smartmatic was secretly founded by late Venezuelan socialist leader Hugo Chavez, is run by or allied with billionaire George Soros and “antifa,” sent votes overseas to be tabulated, either secretly owns or is secretly owned by Dominion, and provided vote-flipping software to Dominion for use in its machines.
Smartmatic, of course, denies every single part of this. On a fact-checking page on its website, it says it has no connection to Dominion whatsoever (“no ownership ties, no software leasing, no business at all between them” other than a short-lived 2009 licensing agreement in the Philippines that ended in a lawsuit). The company also wrote that its only contract in the 2020 elections was for Los Angeles County, where its systems did not “count, tabulate or store votes.” It was not secretly founded or operated by the Venezuelan government; two men from Venezuela registered the company in Florida in 2004.
With the money from its contracts with Venezuela, Smartmatic in 2005 bought Sequoia Voting Systems, which had contracts in 17 states. But it sold Sequoia in 2007 after an investigation was launched by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States into the company’s possible Venezuela ties.
Dominion eventually purchased assets of Sequoia in 2010, a company spokesperson said.
Smartmatic did some work in Venezuela until 2018, the year after it sounded the alarm about election fraud in the country, according to the Post.
Of course, fact-checking these statements is a wild goose chase in and of itself because neither the networks nor the Trump campaign has ever offered substantive evidence they’re not just making stuff up. Trump and his allies have suffered a humiliating series of losses in lawsuits trying to change the outcome of the 2020 elections, including two cases more or less laughed out of the Supreme Court.
Fox News, Newsmax, and OAN “could have easily discovered the falsity of the statements and implications made about Smartmatic by investigating their statements before publishing them,” company CEO Antonio Mugica wrote in a statement. In an FAQ sent to Gizmodo, Smartmatic said it had demanded the three networks retract the stories and added it “has retained legal counsel that has brought some of the largest defamation matters in U.S. history.”
The company provided Gizmodo with a list of dozens of times Giuliani, fellow campaign lawyer Sidney Powell, or hosts including Maria Bartiromo and Lou Dobbs used their appearances on Fox News to “[embark] on a disinformation campaign against Smartmatic shortly after the election closed and continuing today… Fox News published and republished dozens of false and misleading statements regarding Smartmatic.”
Mugica told Reuters in an interview that the right-wing disinfo campaign on the three networks had done severe damage to its ability to do business inside and outside the U.S.
“I don’t think there is one customer in the world that has not come back to us to tell us either that this is a problem and this could endanger our future relationship — for existing customers — or that this could endanger a potential new contract,” Mugica told the network, adding that his business was “collateral damage” and that his sales force had told him plans to expand in Colombia were now “dead in the water because of this situation.”
In documents provided to Gizmodo, Smartmatic didn’t offer an exact estimate of how much revenue it had lost but estimated it could be in the billions.
Spokespeople for Fox, OAN, Giuliani, Powell, and the Trump campaign didn’t respond to CNBC’s request for comment, but Newsmax asserted it “itself has never made a claim of impropriety about Smartmatic, its ownership or software.” Instead, Newsmax told the network, it had merely acted as a “forum for public concerns and discussion.”