Did Sen. Larry Obhof really vote to fund Obamacare in Ohio? Did his Republican primary opponent, anti-abortion activist Janet Folger Porter, refuse to support personhood status for unborn crime victims? Each candidate accused the other of lying. But unlike in past elections, neither could take such complaints before the Ohio Elections Commission for a determination of whether the ads were false — a ruling that could have gained media attention and been used in subsequent advertising. The federal courts have struck down Ohio’s law prohibiting lying in campaigns. Now, Ohioans who were already accustomed to negative campaigning can brace themselves for what comes next, now that the reins are off. “Most of my clients want to tell the truth,” said attorney Donald Brey, who has represented Republicans in a multitude of cases before the Ohio Elections Commission. “But if a client says, ‘I want to lie through my teeth, and as long as I don’t defame anybody, can I get away with it?’ The answer is, unless you’re running for judge, yes.”
By striking down Ohio’s law as a First Amendment violation, the federal courts removed a quick process by which candidates could settle false-advertising complaints in time to utilize such a ruling before voters hit the polls.
Phil Richter, the 20-year executive director of the Ohio Elections Commission, said he got a regular stream of calls throughout the primary season from local and state candidates who wanted to pursue false-advertising claims. He had to tell them that the commission was no longer hearing those cases. “I think you’re going to see people making more outrageous statements as they go through the election process,” he said.
Talking separately to leaders in each party, one might think there is no need for a law to ban lying. Each side insists that their candidates speak the truth, but the other side doesn’t like to hear it.