Ethics Commission Won't Restrict Campaign Speech

Affiliate: ACLU of Maine
October 17, 2008 12:00 am

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Dismisses Complaint Against Portland Candidate

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: info@mclu.org

AUGUSTA – The state Ethics Commission voted 5 to 0 today to uphold free speech rights for political candidates when they dismissed a complaint filed against a Portland City Council candidate, Ed Suslovic, for his use of quotes in campaign materials.

“We are pleased by today’s decision rejecting the complaint,” said Zachary Heiden, Legal Director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union Foundation. “Freedom of political speech lies at the heart of our First Amendment and the work of the MCLU.”

Heiden told the Ethics Commission that the Maine law that governs political campaign literature represents an unconstitutional infringement on political speech. That law, 21-A M.R.S.A. 1014-A, prohibits the use of endorsement quotes unless they are specifically authorized in writing by the “endorser.”

“The Constitution guides the work that you do and forms an umbrella for all government action, and you’re not free to ignore it,” Heiden told the Commission members at the hearing.

The case decided today grew out of a Portland City Council race, where candidate Ed Suslovic was accused by one of his opponents, Dory Waxman, of misrepresenting as an endorsement a comment by Speaker of the House Glenn Cummings quoted in a Portland Press Herald article. Waxman filed the complaint which was referred to the State Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices.

The Commission members, who voted unanimously to dismiss the complaint, decided that the quote in question did not meet the specific definition of an endorsement and would not be governed by the statute.

The issues in the Suslovic case mirrored those that arose in 2007, when the MCLU challenged the constitutionality of the election statute in a case before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. That case, Mowles v. Commission on Election Practices, involved the propriety of a candidate using endorsements from previous elections. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has not yet issued its decision in that case.

“The ruling in this latest case shows that free speech is alive and well in the political process,” said Ed Suslovic. “I hope this sends a message that candidates will continue to be able to engage in spirited debate and let the voters make the decision.”

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