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Ohio Has a Ministry of Truth, and It Isn't Much Better Than George Orwell's

March 5, 2014 in Economics

By Trevor Burrus

Trevor Burrus

Can politics be cleaned of lies, spin, and allegations? Can a government agency—an Orwellian “Ministry of Truth”—police political rhetoric in order to determine what is true, what is false, and what is, as Stephen Colbert would say, “truthy”?

That is just what the Supreme Court is considering in Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, which will be argued in April. The case is a challenge to Ohio’s bizarre statute prohibiting knowingly or recklessly making “false” statements about a political candidate or ballot initiative. In other words, the Ohio Election Commission (OEC) essentially runs a ministry of truth to which any citizen can submit a complaint. Amazingly, twenty other states have such laws.

Only a robust and open marketplace of ideas can effectively combat lies consistent with the First Amendment.”

Laws against lying in political speech are not administered by disinterested truth seekers, but by people with their own political convictions. They chill large amounts of truthful speech and deprive the public of hearing a robust debate on the issues. And, as we will see, they are used by political opponents to turn campaigning into litigation.

The case arises out of a strange combination of a defeated former Congressman, some non-existent political billboards, and a bunch of sour grapes. During the 2010 election, Susan B. Anthony List (SBAL), a 501(c)(4) dedicated to ending abortion, plannedto erect billboards saying, “Shame on Steve Driehaus! Driehaus voted FOR taxpayer-funded abortions!” The claim was based on Driehaus’s support for the Affordable Care Act. Although never erected, the billboards were reported in the news and SBAL disseminated the claim through other, less blatant, means. Driehaus thus filed a complaint with the OEC against SBAL, arguing that SBAL’s claim about taxpayer-funded abortions was false and therefore illegal. The complaint, combined with Driehaus’s threat of legal action against the advertising company that owned the billboards, successfully suppressed SBAL’s speech. Driehaus lost the election.

Disgruntled Congressmen and other elected representatives can certainly be tattle-tales (“Mommy, he’s lying!”), and if the government provides an avenue for tattling, then they will use it against their enemies. In fact, and unsurprisingly, that is how laws like Ohio’s are nearly always used, for retribution and electoral strategy against political enemies. During litigation against a similar law in Florida, the investigation manager for the Florida Election Commission testified under oath that 98 percent of the complaints received are “politically motivated” and that …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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