Bald Lies In Politics Ads Protected by the First Amendment

by Diane Dimond on November 2, 2014

Why Do Politicians Get to Lie in Ads?

Why Do Politicians Get to Lie in Ads?

                    We’re assured truth in advertising — unless its political advertising…

Are you absolutely sick to death of all the snarky campaign ads on television?

Yeah, me too.

November 5th cannot come fast enough. Let’s get this mid-term election over!

Nasty cracks, smarmy innuendo, selective editing of opponents interviews and downright lies. Isn’t there something that should be done to a candidate who deliberately tries to deceive the electorate?

Actually, 16 states have laws that punish candidates and independent organizations who recklessly make false statements during an election. That’s the good news.

What if the Free Speech is a Lie?

What if the Free Speech is a Lie?

The bad news: In the first real test of those so-called Political-Lie law the courts ruled they are an unconstitutional violation of freedom of speech.

Yes, you read that right. The First Amendment gives us all a constitutional right to lie.

I’m not for anything that erodes our First Amendment rights. But doesn’t  it sound odd that the law protects those who deliberately choose to deceive the electorate?

After hearing a case against Ohio’s law (which went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and back to the U.S. District level) the courts ruled, in effect, that a candidate can fling falsehoods against their opponent right and left without consequence. The U.S. Supreme Court declared no government entity – in this case the Ohio Elections Commission — may act as an arbiter of truth.

I Call BS on Abortion Claim

I Call BS on Abortion Claim

The Ohio case dates back to 2010 and stems from a billboard the anti-abortion group The Susan B. Anthony List wanted to put up denouncing a House candidate’s support for taxpayer funded abortions. The candidate, incumbent Rep. Steve Driehaus, filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission saying it just wasn’t true and pointed out that public funds for abortion haven’t been legal since the 1970’s. The billboard company refused to accept the group’s money and Driehaus ultimately withdrew his complaint after he lost the election. But The Susan B Anthony List group, claiming their right to free speech had been violated, pressed on demanding a day in court.

U.S. District Judge Timothy Black wrote the final word in September. “We can all agree that lies are bad,” Black said.

“The problem is, at least with respect to some political speech, that 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.”

Time to Change YOUR Politician?

Time to Change YOUR Politician?

Huh? If someone seeking public office falsely charged their opponent had taken a bribe, hurt a child or been involved in a criminal enterprise shouldn’t their lie be exposed so citizens could cast an informed vote?

Sure, the aggrieved candidate could file a defamation lawsuit but the election would be long over before it ever wound its way through the already clogged civil court system.

I’m not for anything that erodes our First Amendment rights. But it sounds unfair that the law protects those who deliberately choose to deceive voters as they prepare to practice a sacred duty – casting a vote.

Some would say let the politicians go ahead and misrepresent the facts, it all works out in the end. But does it really? I’m betting that like me you don’t have time to double check every statement you read or hear in a political ad.

The government currently regulates truth in labeling (like we find on foodstuffs, clothing and medications) and regulates truth in advertising (from airlines and alcohol to tobacco and funerals) so why isn’t  there be a way to regulate the accuracy of political ads?

Truth is in Pointing Out the Lies

Truth is in Pointing Out the Lies

Perhaps an independent panel of non-partisan truth seekers who scrutinize political messages and report back on their accuracy. It would be a way for voters to keep track of who is truthful and it could result in a substantial cutback in those omnipresent attack ads. What politician wants to be branded as an exaggerator or liar?

As it stands now, it remains up to us, the voters, to analyze the tsunami of candidates’ claims and figure out for ourselves whether they are truths, half-truths or downright lies. Doesn’t  sound like a great system, does it?

Now that the courts have struck down the Ohio law we’re left to wonder what will happen in the other 15 states with similar laws. The Susan B. Anthony List has vowed to challenge the laws wherever they exist and it doesn’t  look good those who value truth.

Keep all this in mind when you step into the voting booth.




Diane Dimond November 2, 2014 at 9:30 pm

Noozhawk Reader awakeallready writes:

“Every political ad is dishonest in some way, even if they do state some verifiable fact. People lie with statistics all the time. Ads present half-truths, or omit some important detail. They are always selling the sizzle, not the steak. Maybe there is some pressure we can put on our local media not to run political ads, but that’s asking them to turn their backs on a pile of money. Citizen’s United made it even worse, obviously, but even if that decision had gone the other way we’d still have dishonest political ads.

The problem is that they work. People are easily swayed by them, or as happened here recently they vote depending on how dishonest a candidates ads are! People say Capps ran a dishonest ad, therefore I’m voting for Mitchum. That’s being just as gullible as voting for a candidate based on his ad campaign. Ads are pure fiction, folks. Good fiction always has some truth in it, but it’s fiction nonetheless. We just have to be better consumers, and pay attention to candidates’ actions in office. And then *remember* when we vote.

People are only deceived by ads if they pay attention to them. We need to foster a culture that ignores political ads.”

Diane Dimond November 2, 2014 at 11:58 pm

ABQ Journal Reader Marie Bogda writes:

“In your column of 1.11.2014 you asked who might call politicians on the lies, distortions or exaggerations in their campaign ads. A perfect example of the use of the first amendment to the constitution for a deceptive end.

Obviously no partisan government agency could do a fair job. Many opponents don’t have the campaign money to respond to each and every falsehood made against them. Citizens are gtoo often left to their own (poor) resources.

So that leaves it to you!! The Fourth estate, the press. National races usually are covered by Fact Check organizations online but statewide and local races should attract the attention of reporters in whatever newspaper is local. Aren’t local reporters the same people who cover the actions of those that do get elected? And criticize them when they fall short or fail; investigate their behind-the-scenes acts? Is that not their job??

I’m amazed this option was never mentioned in your column. Or do you suffer a conflict of interest since you sell ads to the same politicians? Who does the newspaper serve? The public interest or the bottom line? Decide that question and you will know who checks the “facts” in any ad!
marie bogda, Mora, NM “

Diane Dimond November 2, 2014 at 11:58 pm

Dear Ms Bogada:

I am a syndicated columnist – my op-eds go to papers across the country. I have NOTHING to do with selling local political ads and never want to have anything to do with that. I suffer from no conflict of interest and that’s why I can write about these things.
While I have a home in ABQ (that I rent out) my primary residence is in update New York. I’ve lived here for 2 decades. ~ DD

Harry Dugan November 5, 2014 at 12:45 pm

Political bashing is way out of hand. It is my opinion that the media has a responsibility here. Accepting, publishing or airing political ads that are not supported by factual evidence is not very responsible. We have a judicial system that should decide innocence or guilt.

Unfortunately most people go on the basis of last seen or heard when making this type of decision.

The media should support ads based on candidates credentials and own merits not unsupported negatives.

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