For state pols, honesty’s an unenforceable policy
Bill to ban lying on the campaign trail runs afoul of free speech
Even for Beacon Hill, this is a bad idea.
A bill outlawing lying in campaign ads is making the rounds in the Legislature, and it sounds great at first.
Except there are a few big problems.
Like, it’s unconstitutional.
And the bill doesn’t say who determines what’s a lie or the truth.
And it could shut down virtually all campaigns.
The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Colleen Garry of Dracut, apparently didn’t think of those little problems when she came up with this legislative gem.
It’s a one-sentence bill — here’s the exact language: “If a candidate or PAC is proven to have falsified or wrongly stated an opponent’s stand, vote and/or background in an advertisement, the candidate or PAC must forfeit all of their funds to the state.”
The key word there is “proven.” Proven by whom? The courts? Campaign finance regulators? Democratic legislators? Every single politician believes their opponent is lying about them.
Give Garry credit — she’s not afraid to passionately defend her bill, even though no one spoke in support of it at a hearing this week.
“We have truth in advertising on products, why can’t we have truth in advertising when running for office?” Garry asked in an interview. “You can’t yell ‘fire’ in a crowded movie theater. So there’s not the freedom of speech to do anything.”
But political speech is protected in the First Amendment. Garry’s bill as written now is highly unlikely to pass legal muster, a fact which she actually acknowledges. But whatever.
“Yes, there is a right of freedom of speech but you have a moral responsibility to the public to tell the truth,” she said.
Uh, no, you don’t. Campaigns are built on lies and misstatements and deception. And the candidates aren’t losing sleep over it.
Garry also admits there was a personal motivation to file the bill. She was the target of mailings by the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, which she claims lied about her voting record.
A spokesman for Mass Fiscal denies that, but Garry was so incensed by her treatment that she decided to try and get even.
And about those pesky First Amendment believers attacking her bill?
“These people who talk about freedom of speech, they just want the freedom to lie,” she said.
Despite the fact that no one is clamoring to get on board her bill, Garry said the reaction from her constituents has been positive.
“I’ve had a lot of people who’ve said, ‘Good for you it’s about time,’ ” she said.
Garry acknowledges the bill has a few missing pieces, like who will “prove” someone is lying. She said that can be fixed as the bill makes its way through the Legislature.
Which it probably won’t. Because even Massachusetts Democratic lawmakers know that if lying is outlawed in political ads, then they’re all guilty.
Sorry, Representative Garry, this bill deserves a quick and painful death.
And that’s no lie.
The bill doesn’t say who determines what’s a lie or the truth.