Promises, Promises; OR, Why It's legal to Lie to Voters

 

 

                                  by Walter Brasch

 

With less than a week before the election, Marshbaum has been campaigning furiously.

 "A chicken in every pot! Natural gas drilling will save the universe. Free health care for everyone!"

 "Marshbaum!" I commanded, "you can't make those kinds of promises."

 "You're right. I don't want to offend the health care industry. There's a lot of campaign money there. I'll just make up something else."

 "You just can't make up campaign promises."

 "Sure I can. It's easy. How about 'Vote for Marshbaum and win a date with Bette Midler?'"

 "You don't even know Bette Midler."

  "I like her movies," he said casually.

 "It has nothing to do with her movies," I said.

 "Think someone doesn't like her singing? I sure don't want to offend anyone. I could make it a date with Angelina Jolie. How about Brad Pitt for the women? Justin Bieber for teens?"

 "MARSHBAUM!" I screamed. "Get reasonable!"

 He thought a moment. "You're right. Angelina and Brad are probably out wasting their time doing some kind of charity work. How about 'Elect Marshbaum and you'll never pay taxes again!'"

 "That's ridiculous," I said. "No one will believe you."

 "Doesn't matter if they do or don't as long as they vote for me."

 "But you'd be lying to the people," I said.

 "Look at campaign posters," Marshbaum commanded. "They all say the same thing. You can just change the candidates' names and faces and no one will even notice."

"People don't vote for someone based upon posters," I said.

 "You think voters actually read those newspaper articles or go to debates? It's all name recognition. You have more posters and ads than the next guy, and you win. You get three words on a poster. Try 'fair,' 'tough,' and 'experienced' Add a picture of the family for newspaper and TV ads, and mix it in with campaign promise not to raise taxes, and you have election assured."

 "There's probably some law that prevents politicians from lying."

 "Even for being a journalist, you're rather dense," said Marshbaum. "The FCC says it's OK to lie."

 "The Federal Communications Commission gives its approval?" I asked skeptically.

 "The FCC says that radio and TV stations can't refuse to run political ads even if the station management knows the ads are outright lies. Law says if a station takes even one ad from one candidate for federal office, it has to take all ads from all candidates for that office, even if the ad is highly offensive."

 "I'm sure when Congress wakes up they'll change this insane law." Marshbaum just laughed. "Most people don't believe most of what they see on TV anyhow," I sniffed.

 "Don't like the FCC and Congress? The Supreme Court said it was OK to lie," said Marshbaum.

 "The Supremes said lying to the people is acceptable?" I scoffed.

 "OK, not the U. ­­S­. Supreme Court, but A Supreme Court."

 "Which one? In Kabul?"

 "Albany. The New York Supreme Court."

 "Marshbaum, not even New York's court could be that incompetent."

 "Got it right here," he said, taking a wadded paper from his pocket. Case of O'Reilly v. Mitchell. Guy named O'Reilly sued a politician named Mitchell in 1912 and charged him with making promises that weren't kept."

 "A promise is a verbal contract," I said. "I'm sure you read it wrong. The Court undoubtedly upheld O'Reilly's claims."

 "Wrong, Newsprint Breath," said Marshbaum arrogantly. "Court said that politicians lie all the time, that promises in a campaign are just that. Promises. Verdict for the politician. Case closed."

 "But that occurred before World War I," I said. "Undoubtedly, some court overturned it."

"It's precedent," Marshbaum said. "It's on the books. And the ruling was based upon the First Amendment rights of free expression. Just like the FCC ruling. How about 'Vote for Marshbaum and he'll wash all your dirty laundry?'"

 "Marshbaum," I said disgustedly, "there's already too much dirty laundry in the legislature and Congress."

 "Problem solved," said a smug Marshbaum, "when the voters see my plan to give everyone a free clothes washer and dryer, they'll overwhelmingly vote for me."

"You can do whatever you want, but just remember that some politicians actually tell the truth."

 "Name one who did and got elected!" he demanded.

 "Honest Abe," I replied.

 

(For the legal scholars out there, the case of O'Reilly v. Mitchell is cited as 85MISC176, 148NYS, 88 SUP, 1914. For those who aren't lawyers, reflect upon Hitler's belief that "the victor will never be asked if he told the truth." Walter Brasch's next book is Before the First Snow, available in pre-orders at amazon.com)

 

 

Coakley Campaign Charges Fraud

Kevin Conroy, Martha Coakley's campaign manager, just sent out this e-mail in the heat of election day:

We've received several independent and disturbing reports of voters across the state being handed ballots that are already marked in favor of Scott Brown.  This is obviously a serious violation, and our legal team is taking immediate steps to protect the integrity of this election.

We do not yet know why this is happening, but you and everyone you know needs to be aware of the situation so that you can carefully inspect your ballot.  If a vote has already been marked, you must return the ballot to the elections official, demand a clean ballot, and call our Voter Protection Hotline at 617-351-6866.

If true, this is a very disturbing development, as well as a surprising one given that most local officials (though not necessarily polling place volunteers) in Massachusetts are Democrats. More importantly, this e-mail strikes me as Coakley's way of saying, "If I lose, I'll sue." Such a lawsuit would mean that even if Scott Brown wins, he won't win tonight. It would drag out Paul Kirk's tenure in the U.S. Senate (just as Norm Coleman's Minnesota lawsuits dragged out his seat's vacancy), bolstering chances for passage of health care reform but giving Massachusetts voters a massive headache and potentially embarassing the Democratic Party.

For the sake of democracy, one hopes no voter fraud is occuring; this is certainly something to keep an eye on.

Diane Wood for SC Already Under Attack

The National Review (NRO) hates that Diane Wood acclaimed the humanity of gays in questioning the Christan Legal Society, an anti-abortion and anti gay outfit, during oral arguments in Christian Legal Society v. Walker, No. 05-3239.

Wood, a justice on the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Seventh District is considered a leading candidate for Justice Souter's seat.

Bigotry and discrimination are not "about hatred, it is about love. To tell something, somebody something that's wrong is right is not loving, and that's what this chapter would be doing," said the CLC attorney. The NRO's Ed Whelan writes this exchange shows Wood "displayed a hostility to orthodox Christian beliefs."

Trying to fire up the religious right just maybe.

There's more...

Voter Fraud Myth Used to Push Voting Policies that Harken Back to the Jim Crow Era

Cross posted at Project Vote's Voting Matters Blog

By Erin Ferns

Recent studies show that a more diverse electorate turned out last November, including historically underrepresented young and minority voters. Since the election, Republican operatives have continued to use the specter of voter fraud to loosen regulations on voter suppression activities while pushing policies to make voting more difficult for the crop of new voters.

There's more...

Around the Country, Calls for Lawmakers to Address "Real Problems, Not Imaginary Ones"

As several states enter critical phases in their legislative sessions, the debate for one of the most controversial election reforms continues to dominate headlines and legislative hearings. This year, more than 26 states introduced legislation to go above and beyond federal election law relating to voter ID, despite near consensus among voting rights advocates that it hurts the process far more than it helps. Last week, the hysteria around voter ID reached an all time high in six states, evoking public concern from advocates and citizens alike.

There's more...

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