For state pols, hon­esty’s an un­en­force­able pol­icy

Bill to ban ly­ing on the cam­paign trail runs afoul of free speech

Boston Herald - - NEWS - — joe.bat­ten­feld@boston­her­ald.com

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.

HERALD FILE PHOTO

The bill doesn’t say who de­ter­mines what’s a lie or the truth.

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