March 25, 2019
Elon Musk adds to Tesla PR woes
Everyone’s favorite tech-ego Elon Musk has escalated his feud with the Securities and Exchange Commission, hitting back at accusations by regulators that he violated his settlement with the agency by posting “inaccurate and material information” about his firm on Twitter.
Now, in a sworn declaration released earlier this month, Musk insists he should not be held in contempt of court, asserting that he has “taken [his] obligation to comply with the Order and the Policy seriously,” and that he has not, according to him, “tweeted information that I believe is, or could reasonably be, material.” In another filing, his lawyers went even further, accusing the SEC of an “unconstitutional power grab.”
“The SEC’s proffered interpretation of the Order, as imposing a broad, prior restraint on Musk’s speech, would violate the First Amendment and be unconstitutionally vague, because it does not make clear to Musk which of his words will expose him to contempt and which are protected,” Musk’s attorneys have written, “The law does not tolerate such uncertainty.”
It’s the latest shot fired in a battle that began late last month, when the SEC called on a federal judge to hold the entrepreneur in contempt of court over a tweet in which he claimed that Tesla made “0 cars in 2011, but will make around 500k in 2019.”
Though he issued a second tweet a few hours later, clarifying that he “meant to say annualized production rate at end of 2019 probably around 500k, ie [sic] 10k cars/week,” but that “deliveries for year still estimated to be about 400k,” the agency said Musk needed prior approval for the tweet, and that it broadcast inaccurate information to “anyone with Internet access.”
That, the SEC argued, directly violated Musk’s settlement agreement last fall, which prohibits him from making misleading statements about his company. It seems Musk has other ideas.
Musk responded by hitting back at the agency, tweeting that the SEC is “broken.” Still, the dispute sent Tesla shares falling, and added to the public relations headaches that have plagued the Tesla and SpaceX co-founder over the past year.
Earlier this month, a U.S. official familiar with the matter told Bloomberg that Musk’s security clearance is under review after he broadcast himself smoked pot on comedian Joe Rogan’s podcast.
In their counterfiling, Musk and his attorneys claim the SEC is attempting to enforce too wide an interpretation of the settlement’s restrictions. Whether a judge agrees or not, it might not be a bad idea for Musk- who has a persistent and unfortunate habit of putting his foot in his mouth- to stay off social media for the time being, not least for the sanity of his PR team.