U.S. District Judge TImothy S. Black stuck down a 19-year-old Ohio law that prohibits false statements in political campaigns. In his opinion, Judge Black made clear that the government should not be in the business of deciding truth in political speech – that should be left up to voters.
The Huffington Post quotes from Black’s opinion,
“Lies have no place in the political arena and serve no purpose other than to undermine the integrity of the democratic process. The problem is that, at times, there is no clear way to determine whether a political statement is a lie or the truth. What is certain, however, is that we do not want the Government (i.e., the Ohio Elections Commission) deciding what is political truth — for fear that the Government might persecute those who criticize it.”
And the Cincinnati Enquirer quotes Black as follows,
“The answer to false statements in politics is not to force silence but to encourage truthful speech in response, and to let the voters, not the Government, decide what the political truth is.”
As the law was structured, complaints were filed with the Ohio Elections Commission, a body appointed by the governor based on candidate lists submitted by the political leadership of both major parties in the Ohio Assembly. Having a politically appointed body act as the arbiter of truth in political campaigns has the potential to have a chilling effect on free speech, especially since the major parties in Ohio have become indistinguishable from each other on important issues of the day such as Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion and Common Core.
In fact, the group which challenged the constitutionality of the law, Susan B. Anthony List, did so after a billboard owner refused to run ads the group had ordered which attacked U.S. Representative Steve Driehaus. The ads accused Driehaus of supporting taxpayer funded abortions through his vote for Obamacare. Rep. Driehaus had filed an elections complaint over the assertion making the billboard owner wary of moving forward with the campaign.
The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) joined the suit because it too had wanted to criticize Driehaus, but fear of an elections complaint caused COAST to refrain from doing so.
Lower courts had dismissed the case, but in June the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of both groups to bring the suit. The Enquirer wrote,
“Justice Clarence Thomas said Susan B. Anthony List and COAST faced a ‘substantial’ threat of future prosecution. The law therefore forbade them from speaking out, he said.”
While the Ohio Attorney General’s office argued for the law before the Supreme Court, Attorney General Mike DeWine filed a friend of the court brief arguing that the law was unconstitutional.
The Cincinnati Enquirer adds a couple of items of interest to their coverage:
- COAST Co-founder Chris Finney said the ruling will save tax dollars.
“This is 90 percent of what the Ohio Elections Commission does. They’re out of business.”
- Susan B. Anthony List plans to move forward with their billboard campaign, this time to foil the re-election hopes of U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, Democrat from Toledo. Kaptur professes to oppose abortion, but like Driehaus, voted for Obamacare. Susan B. Anthony List asserts that Obamacare allows for the taxpayer funding of abortion through its health care subsidies which help to pay for private insurance plans that cover abortion.
The Cincinnati Enquirer article, “Judge: Ohio won’t bust lying politicians,” can be found HERE.