The Ohio Elections Commission takes sides in campaign debates and can penalize those they disagree with.
The Commission issues rulings not about obvious libel or slander, but differing interpretations. Disagreements. Their authority derives from a decades-old election law outlawing “false statements” in election campaigns. A new court fight challenging the law may finally end this speech-squelching travesty.
Attorney James Bopp is fighting a defamation suit by a defeated candidate. This losing candidate snagged a favorable ruling from the Commission, preventing billboards critical of him from going up, but still wants a pound of flesh. Bopp observes that Ohio’s law against “false statements” is merely an unconstitutional weapon “that can be deployed during any election to try to stifle speech.”
Chris Finney, another lawyer who has represented clients suffering the OEC’s censorious attention, says what the Commission typically deals with “has nothing to do with the truth or falsity of the statement in question [but with] trying to embarrass your opponent as Election Day approaches. You get a headline that says this person is a liar.”
Opposing conclusions can both be “right” . . . given contradictory interpretations of the same facts. The First Amendment is supposed to safeguard open debate about such disagreements — not extinguish it.
Would defenders of Ohio’s law cheer if editorial writers were routinely hauled before speech boards to defend the accuracy of their political assessments?
It’s a disgrace that Ohio’s false-statement law has been in effect for even one day, let alone decades.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.