By Rob Port | Watchdog.org North Dakota Bureau
REGULATE LYING: George Sinner, a Democrat running for the U.S. House in North Dakota, says he’d like the Federal Elections Commission to regulate campaign advertising like the Federal Trade Commission regulates product advertising.
BISMARCK, N.D. — George Sinner, a Democrat running to be North Dakota’s at-large member of the U.S. House, says he’s fed up with all the lying in his Republican opponent’s campaign advertising.
So much so he’s proposing new regulations for political advertising that would put the government in charge of the truth.
“People deserve to know exactly who they are voting for,” Sinner said in an Oct. 21 news release. “That becomes more difficult if candidates and those in office are not being truthful in their political advertising. Commercial ads are already regulated based on this standard, so why not political ads? The stakes are high, and we should ensure our political process honored, respected, and is as transparent and honest as possible. In Congress, I promise to propose Truth in Politics legislation that would help ensure just that–honesty and integrity.”
In the release, Sinner suggests the Federal Elections Commission regulate political advertising as the Federal Trade Commission regulates product advertising. The FEC requires only that a candidate place a disclosure on his ad. The FTC regulates product advertising to ensure claims have a certain level of accuracy.
Sinner’s opponent, Republican incumbent Kevin Cramer, says the proposal runs contrary to the First Amendment.
BAD IDEA: Rep. Kevin Cramer, Sinner’s opponent in the 2014 election, says the Democrat “wants to regulate political speech.”
“When initial reaction to the scrutiny of your position is to want to regulate it, it violates the most fundamental principle of our free democratic society; that is, he wants to regulate political speech,” he told the Jamestown Sun. “What he ought to do is defend his record rather than look to the government to somehow fine whoever it is that’s attacking his record.”
The courts have largely been hostile to the sort of political speech regulation Sinner proposes.
In July, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List in a dispute over an election law in Ohio that made it illegal to “post, publish, circulate, distribute, or otherwise disseminate a false statement concerning a candidate … if the statement is designed to promote the election, nomination, or defeat of the candidate.”
The SBA List ran a billboard in 2010 accusing incumbent Democrat Congressman Steve Driehaus of voting for “taxpayer funded abortions,” a claim they based on his support of Obamacare. Driehaus complained to the Ohio Elections Commission, which took his side and prompted a lawsuit.
A lower court had dismissed the lawsuit, ruling the SBA List didn’t have standing. The Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, overturned that dismissal and will allow the lawsuit to go forward.
“Denying prompt judicial review would impose a substantial hardship on petitioners, forcing them to choose between refraining from core political speech on the one hand, or engaging in that speech and risking costly Commission proceedings and criminal prosecution on the other,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the court.
In September, a lower federal court struck down Ohio’s law.
“We do not want the government (i.e., the Ohio Elections Commission) deciding what is political truth — for fear that the government might persecute those who criticize it. Instead, in a democracy, the voters should decide,” U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Blackwrote in his opinion.