by Bill Sloat
U.S. judge says state panel can still punish false statements
Since the Watergate-era, Ohio has had a panel with authority to penalize those who deliberately disseminate false information during elections. Cincinnati’s conservative anti-tax group COAST — which has been
outspoken against the streetcar project — has chafed that it might
someday run afoul of the Ohio Elections Commission for spouting off. COAST sees the Election Commission’s job of policing political discourse as creating a government-controlled censorship panel. It asked: How could anybody in Columbus have the power to decide what is true and false in political advertising? Free speech should trump the Election Commission’s power to zip lips, or levy penalties over false statements.So COAST
went to court and filed a challenge last year that asked a U.S. court
in Cincinnati for an injunction putting the Ohio Elections Commission on
ice. Last week, U.S.
District Judge Michael R. Barrett (a former chairman of the Hamilton County
Republican Party) tossed the COAST case out of court.
Barrett agreed with COAST that the back-and-forth of political speech is an important right. But
he declared COAST had not shown its ability to make provocative
statements had been damped, or “chilled,” by the existence of the Ohio
Elections Commission. The lawsuit is styled COAST
Candidates PAC, et al v. Ohio Elections Commission, el al, Case No.
1:11cv775, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Ohio.
Barrett said that if COAST had admitted it planned to lie it might have a better case. He wrote: “Plaintiffs
responded that while they do not intend to engage in false speech,
their speech has been chilled out of fear that any provocative statement
might be challenged as false by political opponents. ... Plaintiffs
have failed to demonstrate something ‘more' than a subjective allegation
of chill in this case.”
Barrett said there was no proof of actual or imminent harm. In other words, nobody had tried to make COAST shut up. Barrett wrote off COAST’s worries as veering into sheer fantasy.
would need to make some statement in the future, then Cincinnatians for
Progress, or some other group or individual, would need to file a
groundless complaint against plaintiffs and defendants would then fail
to follow the provisions in Section 3517.22. The scenario is far too speculative.”
The legal battle started last fall over the streetcar referendum and 20
different COAST-linked tweets against the project. One said the Cincinnati Fire Department had been browned out because city money had been used to “pay for streetcar boondoggle.” When streetcar backers filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission last year, the panel cleared COAST. After citizens voted to continue the streetcar project, COAST said they were
under ongoing threat of being hauled before the state commission and
filed the federal lawsuit.
The challenged state law against political lies says nobody can, “post,
publish, circulate, distribute or otherwise disseminate, a false
statement, either knowing the same to be false or acting with reckless
disregard of whether it was false or not, that is designed to promote
the adoption or defeat of any ballot proposition or issue.” And it is still on the books.
1 Comment · Wednesday, March 7, 2012
In all likelihood, Congresswoman Jean Schmidt will be safely on her way to running in the November general election by the time this column is published. Although I’m writing this on March 6, the
day of Ohio’s primary elections, and Schmidt is facing three opponents
for the Republican nomination.
Lies, 'blood money' and history all part of lawsuit
1 Comment · Wednesday, June 23, 2010
The congresswoman for Ohio's 2nd District last week filed a defamation lawsuit against one of her opponents from the 2008 election. The suit by Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Miami Township) alleges that David Krikorian of Madeira and his campaign made a number of knowingly false and derogatory statements about Schmidt during and after the election. And from there, things get a little weird.