Federal Court Orders Political “False Statement” Case to Proceed Against Susan B. Anthony List

A federal court in Ohio has ruled against the Susan B. Anthony List in a case it brought challenging the constitutionality of an Ohio law that prohibits “false statements” about candidates or their voting records in political advertising.

As I reported last week, Rep. Steve Driehaus, an anti-choice Ohio Democrat, initially voted for the Stupak amendment but then voted for the final health care bill with a provision that was at least as restrictive as Stupak. Still, Driehaus was demonized as promoting abortion by the religious right, and was targeted in his Cincinnati-area district by the anti-choice group Susan B. Anthony List. He filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission, triggering an investigation of whether the SBA List’s claim that Driehaus voted to expand federal funding of abortion, in a proposed billboard ad, was false.

The SBA List sought to put a halt to the state proceeding — which would in all likelihood investigate whether SBA List and other allies knew that the final health care law did not, in fact, expand federal funding for abortion — by claiming that the Ohio law chilled its free speech. In an order denying the group’s request for a temporary restraining order, federal district judge Timothy S. Black wrote, “the Commission’s proceedings are not keeping any candidate off the ballot in November — and indeed, the Commission has not enjoined any of Plaintiff’s speech relating to the November election. The Commission is simply exercising its statutory duty to determine whether a certain political advertisement published by Plaintiff violates Ohio’s false statement law.”

The Ohio Elections Commission proceeding will be one to watch, not just because of the religious right’s concerted campaign to punish anti-choice Democrats — who otherwise have been allies — merely because they voted for the health care bill. The proceeding will likely shed light on how the SBA List and other anti-choice groups have waged a misinformation campaign, one picked up on by the tea party, based on the claim that health care reform, in Sarah Palin’s words, represented “the biggest advance of the abortion industry in America.”

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