Maine Civil Liberties Union Says Candidate’s Right to Exercise Political Speech Violated

Affiliate: ACLU of Maine
July 20, 2006 12:00 am

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MCLU Says Speech Statute Is Overbroad and Unfair

PORTLAND, ME — The Maine Civil Liberties Union today filed a motion on behalf of Michael Mowles, a 2006 candidate for the Maine House of Representatives. Mowles became the subject of harmful scrutiny during his bid for the Republican primary nomination after the State Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices publicly criticized his campaign literature, using an unconstitutional law to limit political speech.

“Our elections system is based upon a free marketplace of ideas,” said David A. Lourie, an MCLU volunteer attorney for Mowles.. “The decision about whether a politicians’ speech is foolish, inappropriate, or misleading rests with the voters, not the government.”

Mowles’ 2004 candidacy for the Maine House of Representatives was endorsed by U.S. Senators Snowe and Collins. In his 2006 run for the same office, he distributed leaflets that included quotations from the previous election’s Senatorial endorsements, each with the attribution “October 2004” printed after it. His opponent in the 2006 Republican primary, Jennifer Duddy, filed a complaint with the Commission alleging that Mowles circulated a misleading leaflet.

The Commission held an impromptu hearing, giving Mowles only an an hour and a half notice. He was unable to attend. At the hearing, the Commission determined that by reprinting the earlier endorsements Mowles was violating the statute that prohibits distributing “unauthorized” campaign materials. The decision of the Commission was widely reported in local papers, and Mowles lost to Duddy in the primary.

“The government doesn’t have the right to control political speech,” said Shenna Bellows, Executive Director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union, “Mr. Mowles was making use of comments already in the public sphere. It’s up to the people, not his opponent and not the government, to decide whether or not that’s appropriate.”

Today’s motion was filed in the Cumberland County Superior Court. At issue is whether or not the law that allowed the scrutiny of Mowles’ campaign materials is unconstitutional. Today’s proceedings also represent the first time the MCLU officially spoke in the case.

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