(CNN) – Angry finger-pointing continued in a North Carolina congressional race Tuesday over a campaign advertisement that purported to feature the voice of the actor Morgan Freeman.
Republican candidate B.J. Lawson's campaign said it was "tricked" by a production company after it was revealed that Freeman was not the narrator in Lawson's latest ad, as the campaign had previously claimed. Now the campaign has threatened legal action, and both parties have released statements, e-mail exchanges, and signed contracts as evidence as to who knew what when, and what exactly was agreed to.
"We're apologizing to Congressman Price, to the voters, and most of all to Morgan Freeman because this is not the campaign we wanted to run, and not the campaign we have run," Lawson campaign spokesman Martin Avila told CNN on Monday.
The narrator's familiar voice immediately raised eyebrows when the ad launched on Friday. Lawson's campaign initially confirmed that the voice was Freeman's on Facebook and on its website on Monday.
But the Oscar-winning actor issued a statement soon after denying any involvement with the campaign.
"These people are lying. I have never recorded any campaign ads for B.J. Lawson and I do not support his candidacy. And, no one who represents me ever has ever authorized the use of my name, voice or any other likeness in support of Mr. Lawson or his candidacy," Freeman said statement.
Avila said the California-based group MEI Political approached the campaign and offered to produce an ad with Freeman, and the campaign "innocently walked into it."
"If there was any question it wasn't him, we wouldn't have run the ad," Avila said. Lawson's campaign lawyers are reviewing the situation and have recommended a criminal inquiry into MEI for misrepresenting its product, Avila said.
But MEI sharply denied misleading the campaign, and now both sides have released statements outlining their version of events, and e-mail exchanges they say support their side of the story.
The Lawson campaign released an e-mail exchange between Lawson and MEI president Benjamin Mathis, from October 27, in which Mathis wrote, "I'd love to record a robocall or ad starring John O'Hurley for you guys…I'll also have Gerald McRaney, Morgan Freeman...later in the week."
The campaign also released a signed contract with MEI that states in part, "M.E.I. shall write and produce one Morgan Freeman radio commercial requested by L.F.C.," which the campaign says proves that they were promised an ad narrated by Freeman.
But MEI sharply denied misleading Lawson, and said that it told the campaign they would be using a voice double for Freeman at the outset of their discussions. MEI produced an e-mail dated October 12 - two weeks prior to the e-mail released by Lawson's campaign – that it says proves it never claimed to have the real Freeman available.
The e-mail, which was distributed by Lawson's opponent in the race for North Carolina's 4th congressional district, Rep. David Price, read in part, "I just wanted to let you know that if you're interested, I am going to have the several celebrities in studio this week to record some campaign ads for radio and TV... I'll also have the personal voice doubles for Morgan Freeman, William Shatner, Donald Sutherland, Sam Elliott, Queen Latifah, John Goodman, and Ray Romano in studio cutting ads for us.
"A voice double is the person hired by a celebrity to do 'voice matching' for the celeb when they are unavailable to re-record audio in post on a project. The audience never notices the difference. It's one of those little secrets of Hollywood. We've used them with great success in political ads. We of course never say that they are the actual celebrity, but voters recognize their voice and trust it," Mathis' e-mail continued.
Avila contends that the e-mail implies the voice double is authorized by Freeman to represent his likeness, and insisted that is how the campaign interpreted Mathis' words.
But in a statement released late Monday night, Mathis said the e-mail made it "abundantly clear" that it planned to use Freeman's voice double for the ad.
"Both verbally and in writing, we made it clear to the Lawson campaign that this is not Morgan Freeman, but instead it is Mr. Freeman's voice double," Mathis said. "We also informed the campaign that even though the ad was similar to Morgan Freeman in style or tone, the campaign should not represent it as the actor Morgan Freeman or as an endorsement by Mr. Freeman."
Mathis also blasted the campaign, saying, "It is highly inappropriate for them to publicly misrepresent this ad (against our explicit advice), and then try to throw a campaign supporter and a lifelong Republican under the bus by claiming that they were somehow 'duped' into thinking that Morgan Freeman, a man who gets paid $1 million just to record a visa commercial, was seriously going to record a radio spot for their campaign."
On its website, MEI Political describes itself as a "full service political media company." It lists several high profile Republican candidates among its clients, including former presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, South Carolina gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Lawson's opponent has also questioned the campaign's explanation.
"This is simply not credible. How can a candidate seriously claim that they had the voice and purported support of a well-known actor like Morgan Freeman without ever having spoken with him?" asked Price campaign spokesman Andrew High.
Price also blasted Lawson for the ad in a statement released shortly after Freeman spoke out.
"This is an unfortunate and desperate attempt to fool voters in the last hours of a campaign. By using Mr. Freeman's good name, BJ Lawson has ruined his own, and he should be ashamed. Now the voters will decide whom they trust," Price said in a statement.