EDUCATION: April 23, 2014
Government Truth Commissions Make Politics Dirtier
A Commentary by Steve Klein
Wyoming Liberty Group

In 2010, the website PolitiFact called Republican claims that Obamacare is a "government takeover" of healthcare the "Lie of the Year." Last year, PolitiFact gave the title to President Obama's claim that under Obamacare "If you like your health care plan, you can keep it." Obviously, PolitiFact's authority over what constitutes a "lie" is questionable given the contradiction between these two awards, and the website is subject to the same scrutiny we give everyone who speaks out about politics. But what if government gets to decide what constitutes "false" speech in politics and punish the "liars"?

The Susan B. Anthony List called candidate Steve Driehaus's vote for Obamacare to a vote for "taxpayer-funded abortion" during the 2010 election cycle. Instead of merely arguing against SBA List's claim, Driehaus filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission, which has the power to fine and even imprison speakers who make "false" statements about candidates for political office. SBA List sued both Driehaus and the commission, claiming the Ohio law unconstitutionally violates free speech, and the United States Supreme Court heard the case on April 22.

Advocates of so-called campaign reform claim that SBA List is looking to affirm a "right to lie" in politics, with some glibly saying that the same court that has upheld truthful listing of ingredients on food products may not do the same for politicos. But political speech is very different from commercial speech, and deeper government meddling into the ultimate act of what holds government accountable-elections-will only make politics dirtier.

If Driehaus's actions against SBA List in Ohio do not make the point clearly enough, there are plenty of hypotheticals to consider right here in Wyoming if we had a "false" political speech law. Take, for example, Charlie Hardy. Charlie is running against our Senator Mike Enzi. Charlie already has a lot going against him: he's a Democrat in a solidly Republican state, he's up against Enzi's $1 million-plus campaign fund, and Enzi is a popular incumbent. But if we had a truth commission, Charlie's opposition could tie down his small campaign in a legal inquiry.

Charlie has a campaign video on his website, "Run with Charlie." By "run," Charlie means his run for Senate, but he also presents himself as an actual runner, with video of him going around the Cheyenne rail yards. One could argue that Charlie is not, in fact, running. Nearing 75 years old, Charlie is really shuffling, perhaps jogging, at best. Whether a complaint about this would get very far at Wyoming's hypothetical truth commission is beside the point: Charlie would have to respond to such complaints, and perhaps even spend his already inferior campaign funds on election lawyers to represent him.

Is this snarky? Absolutely. Far-fetched? Hardly. We are, after all, the state that has so far spent the 2014 election cycle discussing the finer points of fishing licenses, property tax deadlines, and even, in some circles, Wyoming's lack of escalators. Politics is silly, and often dirty, but allowing government inquisitions into truth only amplifies this, and makes participation so risky that many decide it's simply not worth it. Hopefully the Supreme Court will strike down Ohio's law, and we in Wyoming will continue to avoid novel "reforms" that only exacerbate the problems they intend to correct.
Steve Klein, Wyoming Liberty Group, 307-632-7020

For staff bios and photos, please go to

This commentary is free and provided to media outlets and opinion leaders by the Wyoming Liberty Group for reprint with attribution. The Wyoming Liberty Group is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, non-partisan research organization. The Group's mission is to prepare citizens for informed, active and confident involvement in local and state government and to provide a venue for understanding public issues in light of constitutional principles and government accountability.