Attorney: Court ruling lets Ohio candidates lie

Associated Press

Columbus, Ohio — Candidates for public office in Ohio can lie and get away with it under a recent federal court ruling that struck down a state law banning false statements in campaigns, an attorney says.

Attorney Donald Brey, who has represented Republicans in cases before the Ohio Elections Commission, told The Columbus Dispatch his clients mostly tell the truth, but can legally lie as long as they don’t defame anyone.

In past elections, the commission ruled on false-advertising complaints. That changed when the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals a few weeks ago upheld the 2014 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black that found the law violated the First Amendment. The Dispatch reports no further appeal is expected.

Black wrote that “lies are bad,” but with some political speech, “there is no clear way to determine whether a political statement is a lie or the truth, and we certainly do not want the government deciding what is political truth.”

Phil Richter, executive director of the state Elections Commission, said he has had to turn away calls from candidates alleging false-advertising claims.

Those candidates must now file a defamation lawsuit, which could be more difficult to prove and could drag on past Election Day.

“I think you’re going to see people making more outrageous statements as they go through the election process,” Richter said.

Rep. Nicholas Celebrezze, D-Parma, who headed candidate recruiting for House Democrats, said the number of false claims is going to increase.

“The gloves are off,” he said.

Both Richter and Celebrezze say state lawmakers should try to reinstate an alternative method of handling false advertising complaints that complies with the First Amendment. Richter said they must first remove criminal penalties that he says were rarely ever used.

Sen. Bill Coley, R-West Chester, chairman of the Senate Government Oversight Committee, said staff attorneys are examining the rulings to determine if a compromise is available.

“It’s a tricky area,” he said. “I don’t like people lying in campaigns. I think the law should encourage people to tell the truth, but I don’t know that there’s a lot we can do.”