Ex-State Rep. Denyse Stoneback sues successor, GPAC Illinois saying they defamed her

Gun Rights

Former State Rep. Denyse Wang Stoneback, who campaigned on an anti-gun violence message, is suing her successor and a former political ally for alleged defamation, including campaign fliers casting her as an NRA ally and an opponent of gun violence prevention, according to the lawsuit.

Stoneback, a Skokie Democrat who built a reputation as an anti-gun violence activist for years before her election to the statehouse in 2019, says GPAC Illinois, also called Gun Violence Prevention PAC, and State Rep. Kevin Olickal cast her in campaign literature during the 2022 primary campaign to represent Illinois’ 16th House District as an “enemy to gun violence prevention” and someone aligned with the National Rifle Association, according to the lawsuit.


“The Defendants engaged in a campaign that completely deconstructed Ms. Stoneback’s history of gun safety advocacy and knowingly recast her as an opponent of gun safety legislation,” her lawsuit states.

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Olickal did not return multiple calls and emailed requests for comment from Pioneer Press.


Attorney Michael Kasper, who is representing GPAC, said in an email he could not comment on pending cases.

Rep. Kevin Olickal defeated former Rep. Denyse Wang Stoneback in the 2022 primary race to represent the 16th House District and went on to win the general election in November 2022.

The 49-page lawsuit walks through Stoneback’s work as an advocate to prevent gun violence beginning in 2012, when she established the nonprofit People for a Safer Society in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting.

The lawsuit then moves onto Stoneback’s advocacy against a gun store and firing range that had at one point been planned for Niles, among other activist efforts, and her 2019 House campaign, in which women’s issues and gun violence prevention were two major planks.

The bill that forms the crux of the lawsuit’s argument is House Bill 0562, which created a battery of new measures geared toward reducing gun violence including universal background checks and included a provision for voluntary fingerprinting for FOID cardholders.

Stoneback did not vote when the bill came up for a final approval in the house, legislative records show. The measure passed 75-40.

The lawsuit states that “in her entire tenure as 16th District State Rep., Ms. Stoneback never voted against any gun safety bills.”

It goes on to say that Stoneback sat out voting on HB 0562 because it would have allowed voluntary fingerprinting, which she thought would have been “meaningless.”

GPAC, a lobbying organization which advocates for gun control measures, endorsed Stoneback in the 2018 campaign but opted to back challenger Kevin Olickal in the 2022 campaign.


The lawsuit alleges that GPAC and Olickal distributed campaign mailers, saying that Stoneback voted against universal background checks and stated she was an ally of the NRA.

“They engaged in a relentless bombardment of false statements about Ms. Stoneback that sought to and succeeded in destroying the reputation she built over nearly ten years of advocacy for gun safety and preventing gun violence,” the lawsuit states.

In this 2014 file photo, Denyse Stoneback, right, founder of People for a Safer Society and Tony Hind, left, lawyer for the group, speak in front of the Village of Niles Municipal Building.

Olickal won the primary election and defeated Republican candidate Vince Romano four months later to take the 16th House District seat in Springfield.

Stoneback told Pioneer Press she is still determining her next move after wrapping up her term in January 2023, but that she “continue(s) to be very interested in gun violence prevention.”

In a press release announcing she had brought the lawsuit against Olickal and GPAC, Stoneback also promoted a bill she had filed in fall 2022 known as the Truth in Politics Act, or HB 5850. That measure, which has not yet been reintroduced in the 103rd General Assembly, requires candidates for elected office to personally endorse or vouch for campaign advertisements and prohibits “libel and defamation in political advertising,” among other provisions.

Stoneback told Pioneer Press that her lawsuit mostly speaks for itself but that she hoped to see lawmakers take up the measure in the new General Assembly as a way to encourage people to run for elected positions.


“Too often good people are discouraged from seeking public office because they see how elections become dishonest and ugly, and when that happens it’s a loss for all of us,” she said. “It’s important for us to take steps as a state to improve the way we conduct political campaigns.”

Currently, 27 states have outlawed false statements in political campaigns, Stoneback’s press release stated.

Stoneback’s lawsuit is scheduled for case management July 10, per court records.

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