The 1,000-pound bear that Rancho Santa Fe businessman John Cox expected would draw attention to his quest for the California governor’s office has instead attracted a different kind of notoriety.
A group of San Diego animal activists has filed a lawsuit asking a judge to order Cox to immediately suspend any further public appearances with the animal through the duration of the campaign to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Lawyers for the Animal Protection and Rescue League claim that Cox’s campaign stop in San Diego earlier this month violated a city ordinance and that ongoing appearances are illegal under federal law.
The nonprofit wrote to Cox after the San Diego campaign event, demanding the candidate stop using the bear and claiming it was drugged, but the group never received a reply, the lawsuit states.
“Your use of a drugged bear as a publicity stunt at campaign events violates animal-cruelty and nuisance laws,” stated the demand letter, which was sent to Cox’s home and business addresses on May 15.
“We are requesting that you immediately cease and desist this unlawful and abusive activity,” it added.
Cox campaign officials Tuesday denied that the bear was drugged or abused. They pledged to continue displaying the bear at political events — at least until a judge intercedes.
Cox, who was the unsuccessful Republican Party nominee challenging Newsom in 2018, is one of scores of candidates vying to replace the sitting governor if a majority of voters recalls Newsom in a special election later this year.
Cox introduced the bear into his recall campaign events earlier this spring as a way to generate interest in his candidacy. He has said it will take a “beast” to defeat Newsom and he is the candidate who can enact the reforms California needs.
In a statement Tuesday, the Cox campaign framed the lawsuit as an example of its winning message to voters.
“The establishment is running scared from the bear because they don’t like that we’re going to make the big beastly changes California needs,” the campaign said.
“Gavin Newsom and his insider friends want to distract from the important issues like slashing taxes, fixing the homelessness epidemic and reducing the cost of living so families and businesses don’t have to flee the state.”
The bear is a 9-year-old male Kodiak named Tag. The animal stands 7½ feet tall.
“His diet consists of lots of chickens, fruit and vegetables,” the Cox campaign said. “He enjoys swimming in his habitat. He was raised in captivity and trained by Working Wildlife.”
Tag also is a show business veteran, with its own Facebook page and an entry on IMDb, the online entertainment industry staple that tracks screen credits for thousands of actors. According to the Cox campaign, Tag has appeared in dozens of commercials, television shows and feature films, including spots for Geico, Jack-in-the-Box and Rocket Mortgage.
The 12-page legal complaint questions the safety of the animal — and the public — at campaign events.
“Defendants do not put up any barriers between the 1,000-pound bear and the public at their events,” the lawsuit stated.
“While at one point defendants claimed to use an ‘electrified wire’ to contain the bear, this would not be sufficient to stop a 1,000-pound bear,” the suit said. “Defendants later admitted the wire was not even electrified as claimed.”
The legal complaint, which was filed Monday afternoon in San Diego Superior Court, is not seeking damages beyond legal fees and court costs. According to the lawsuit, the 10,000-member animal-rights nonprofit would rather not be in court seeking to convince a judge to stop the campaign antics.
“Defendant’s unlawful business acts detailed in this complaint both frustrate APRL’s core mission of helping animals and impede APRL’s ability to expend valuable time and resources to promote its mission to further animal protection,” it said.
The Animal Protection and Rescue League is a San Diego nonprofit formed in 2003 whose mission is to protect the rights and habitats of all animals. San Diego lawyer Bryan Pease, who filed the lawsuit with Beverly Hills attorney G. David Tenenbaum, serves as chairman of the charity’s board of directors.
According to its most recent federal tax filing, the Animal Protection and Rescue League raises and spends about $400,000 a year. At the end of its 2019 fiscal year, the group reported $78,000 in total assets.
The nonprofit is no stranger to lawsuits. It has filed at least two dozen lawsuits in recent years against cities, companies and private property owners, San Diego Superior Court records show.
The league’s case against Cox has yet to be assigned to a judge or scheduled for a hearing.