Project Wonderful

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Truth-bending in politics? Well, I never!

True, this article is from Fox News. But, seriously.
"In a case that could test the bounds of free speech, a former Democratic congressman has been allowed to proceed with his lawsuit against a prominent pro-life group that he claims contributed to his election defeat by spreading falsehoods about his record on abortion issues."
Basically, this Congressman (Steve Driehaus) voted for the health care bill, and this anti-choice group (Susan B Anthony List) used that vote to claim he supported government funded abortion. He lost the election and is suing them.

Okay, I agree, campaigns, PACs and outside groups should not spread lies about other politicians. When my politicians on my campaigns have been the victims of these lies, I have had the thought "There ought to be a law!!!" On the other hand, politicians or campaigns I support have been on the disseminating end of negative campaigning and I've thought "Well, people need to know." Our opponents have no doubt seen these attacks as unfair or out of context and that, my friends, is politics. So, what is "should"?

There is in fact a law, or a set of laws, but the bar is high.
Driehaus would have to prove that what the group said about him was an out and out lie and that they knew it was. As the article puts it, "While libel and defamation law protects most speech when it comes to public officials, it does not necessarily protect false speech."

So much in politics is a matter of opinion. The claims that Susan B. Anthony List made about former Rep.Driehaus are pretty outrageous, but so are a lot of claims I've heard. How far is the leap from "Congresswoman X voted for a bill decriminalizing marijuana" to "Congresswoman X wants your children to be able to buy drugs?" I once worked on a campaign where our opponent claimed that my candidate was attacking his learning disabled child. (In reality, my candidate was campaigning on being the only public school parent in the race.) Was my candidate attacking our opponent's child by touting his own experience with public schools? Clearly, not. Did our opponent really think this was our candidate's intention? Doubtful. Did we sue the guy? Heck, no. Then again, we also won.

He also needs to prove that it caused him economic harm. As part of his complaint, Driehaus argues, "The First Amendment is not and never has been an invitation to concoct falsehoods aimed at depriving a person of his livelihood." This is the part that really gets me. This isn't about healthcare reform or election standards, it's about a sore loser. I don't see how Driehaus will be able to prove that this ad campaign definitively caused him to lose the election. Even if he does, so what? People have voted politicians out for less valid reasons. Voters have the right (frequently exercised) to vote stupid. When you choose electoral politics as your profession, you're signing on for a lack of job security. It comes with the territory. You might not like it, but you don't get to sue somebody. If you can't stand the heat, get outta the kitchen.

If "economic harm" didn't play such a large role in Driehaus' complaint, I would be way more sympathetic. The question of how or if we should regulate lying in campaigns is compelling. The people who tried to deny their fellow Americans health care by lying for political gain should be smacked, but Driehaus himself just makes me want to call the waaaahmbulance.

And who is representing the anti-choice group in question? None other than our friend, James Bopp.

I love when a conversation comes full circle.



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