Monday, January 13, 2014

Suing to save the right to lie in political ads.

               The urban, industrialized areas of Ohio are blue islands in a sea of red. Ohio has gerrymandered the districts to the point they look like they were drawn by a madman using LSD as a muse.The result is an overwhelming majority held by Radical Republicans in the US House and State Legislature.

Republicans talk here how Ohio is a conservative state. I think Ohio electing Barack Obama and Senator Sherrod Brown twice belies that. In the midterms coming up Ohio Dems are in a good position this early in the cycle to retake the statewide offices. Governor Kasich is in a tight race with the Democratic challenger Ed Fitzgerald.

These Ohio Legislators in 2013 slid horrendous abortion regulation into the State budget. The regulations are considered among the worst in the nation, right up there with Arkansas, North Dakota and of course, Texas. The Head of Ohio Right to Life sits on the State Medical Board which oversees healthcare professionals in Ohio. Ohio redefined when pregnancy begins in that budget. The so called "Heartbeat" bill is meandering through the legislative maze currently. This bill effectively bans abortion and is designed to attempt to force the overturning of Roe v Wade.

Suffice it to say the "pro Life" cadre swings a lot of weight in the politics of Ohio. With the Bible in one hand and the flag in another they claim the moral high ground as they try to turn back the clock on women's issues. That claim of superior morality now seems suspect. Two Cincinnati groups are taking a fight to SCOTUS to save their right to lie in political discourse.

During the 2010 midterms, Steve Driehaus (D-OH) was running for reelection against Steve Chabot
(R-OH) in Ohio's first Congressional District. That district has portions of Cincy and a couple of rural counties that border KY and IN.

We all remember 2010 as the emergence of the Tea Party as a reactionary and loud voice in American politics. They targeted Republicans for failing purity tests and demonized Democrats. In this climate the Susan B. Anthony List decided to go after the incumbent Dem, Driehaus. The plan was to buy billboard space claiming Driehaus voted for Federally funded abortions by voting for the Affordable Care Act. This was a blatant lie. Anyone familiar with the politics of abortion knows that the use of Federal funds has been banned for years. The ACA does not change that. And the Susan B. Anthony List was aware of this. however they decided not to let the truth stand in the way of a good billboard ad campaign.

Imagine, lies being told in political campaigns. Shocking, I know.

Now the real shocker is Ohio has a law against knowingly telling lies in political campaigns.The process is cumbersome but the Ohio Elections Commission has the power to block untruthful ads and recommend prosecution.It has been used in the past to stop blatant lies, usually ruling after the election when it's moot. Usually the offending ad is scrapped prior to being run or is pulled if running. Offhand I don't recall any major fines being levied but there may have been.Also in politics, lies are in the eyes of the beholder.

Representative Driehaus went to the Commission over the billboards. The Election Commission concurred the ad's premise was false and blocked them.

Driehaus lost to Steve Chabot in the resultant Tea Party wave. Case closed. The seat was now held by a Republican, which was the goal.

Not so fast.

In 2011 the Susan B. Anthony List filed suit in Federal Court contending Ohio's False Statement statute violated the First Amendment by chilling free speech. A Cincinnati Tea Party group, the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes also filed and the suits were joined. The court decided the plaintiffs had no standing to sue since they were not prosecuted under the law and dismissed the suit. The 6th District Court also dismissed the suit on appeal for the same reason.

The groups appealed to SCOTUS saying the very existence of the law has a chilling effect on free speech and is prior restraint. The Supreme Court has decided to hear the case to determine if the groups have standing to file suit. The hearing will be in April with a decision expected towards the end of the term.

In defending Ohio, the Attorney General, defeated Senator Mike DeWine, has also filed an amicus brief acknowledging constitutional issues with the statute. This happens when a state's attorney or US attorney feels the law is iffy.So, we know where a Republican Attorney General stands on the right to lie being protected speech.

When SCOTUS decided to hear arguments the plaintiffs were ecstatic.

According to The Huffington Post, Marjorie Dannenfelser, President of The Susan B.Anthony List said, "We are thrilled at the opportunity to have our arguments heard. The Ohio Election Commission statute demonstrates complete disregard for the Constitutional rights of citizens to criticize their elected officials."

So this group equates lying with legitimate criticism. They seem to be missing the point of political discourse and the vigorous debate of issues. Your goal is supposed to defend your chosen position with facts to sway public opinion. If lying is a necessary strategy the legitimacy of your argument and strength of your position is suspect. As well it should be.

I'm not a naif. Lies are common currency in politics. Usually they are half truths, exaggerated for maximum effect. Reality is twisted to fit the narrative, However no one comes out and admits to lying. Thus you have fact checking rating the degree of "truthiness" in a statement. If lies were rare there wouldn't be a pants on fire rating.

Now an organization, in a movement in Ohio, who constantly claims moral indignation and a basic mission from God is fighting for the right to lie, without being called out, to further their political agenda. You would think this would damage their perceived moral superiority and righteous claims to a moral agenda. We'll see.

I am conflicted. Should I be glad that lying is now an admitted part of their agenda? Or should I be disappointed in having my cynicism reaffirmed?

Also, remember this is the Supreme Court that gave us Citizens United.

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