Former Rep. Steve Driehaus says the Susan B. Anthony List is a big-time liar that cost him his job in Congress.
The pro-life group, which waged an aggressive attack on his re-election campaign last year, says that’s nonsense and contends the Ohio Democrat is trying to stifle free speech.
While the two sides duke it out in court, the legal dispute could serve as a test case for election laws nationwide.
The dispute began last year when the Susan B. Anthony List tried to post billboards in Mr. Driehaus‘ Cincinnati-area district accusing him of supporting “taxpayer funded” abortions when he voted for the Obama administration’s health care initiative.
The Ohio Democrat filed a complaint with state election officials that the signs were illegal under Ohio’s “false statements” law. The billboard company, not wanting to be added to the complaint, refused to put up the signs.
The Susan B. Anthony List fired back by filing a lawsuit in U.S. District Court arguing that the state election law governing false claims is unconstitutional because it violates the group’s right to free speech.
Mr. Driehaus, who lost his re-election bid in November to Republican Steve Chabot, responded by filing a counterclaim for defamation, saying the group’s attacks during his 2010 campaign resulted in “loss of livelihood.”
“A lie is a lie, regardless of who or how many might believe it to be true,” reads the opening line of Mr. Driehaus‘ counterclaim that was filed in December. “The lies worked.”
The Susan B. Anthony List says it spent about $200,000 on radio spots, mailers, telephone calls and other methods to oppose the Driehaus campaign. The group also shelled out a total of $11 million nationwide during the 2010 midterm election campaign season to oppose candidates whom it considered sympathetic to abortion, even though some of those candidates — including Mr. Driehaus — identified themselves as “pro-life.”
“Any citizens ability to criticize a public official ought to be protected,” she said. “If he’s going to charge somebody’s depriving his livelihood, he should be charging every voter that voted against him.”
ACLU weighs in
The conservative Susan B. Anthony List has attracted a curious ally: The American Civil Liberties Union, which often identifies with liberal causes, filed an amicus brief on behalf of the group.
The ACLU called the Ohio false statements law “vague and overbroad” and said it “cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny.”
“The people have an absolute right to criticize their public officials, the government should not be the arbiter of true or false speech,” reads the brief, filed in October. “The best answer for bad speech is more speech.”