Friday October 15, 2010

Setback: Ohio Election Board Rules against Pro-Life SBA List

By Peter J. Smith

COLUMBUS, Ohio, October 15, 2010 ( – A major U.S. pro-life group received a serious setback Wednesday after the Ohio Elections Commission ruled that there was “probable cause” to believe that ads accusing a pro-life Democrat of voting for taxpayer-funded abortion in the new health care law were intentionally misleading.

The Commission voted 2–1 to advance the case brought by U.S. Rep. Steven Driehaus (pronounced Dree-house) against the Susan B. Anthony List to the full panel.

It is expected that all seven members of the commission will meet by October 28 to discuss whether the pro-life group broke an Ohio law that forbids making false statements about a candidate in a campaign. No definite date, however, has been set yet.

Susan B. Anthony List contends that Driehaus voted for taxpayer-funding of abortion when he cast his lot in with U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and eleven other pro-life Democrats to approve the Affordable Care Act in exchange for an executive order (EO), which Stupak said would prevent federal funds from financing elective abortions.

One pro-life Democrat, U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, broke with Stupak over the issue and voted against the bill saying Obama’s executive order probably would not stand up to judicial scrutiny. He stated that the EO only covered the direct funding of abortion at Community Health Centers, not the abortion fees for health plans subsidized by the state-run health exchanges.

Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said the ruling by the Ohio Elections Commission will allow Driehaus to fulfill his “strategic objective of preventing constituents from learning the truth about his vote.”

“We are disappointed and surprised that the complaint was not immediately dismissed,” said Dannenfelser. “The fact that the health care reform bill allows for taxpayer funding of abortion has been agreed upon by every major pro-life group in the country, including National Right to Life, Americans United for Life, Focus on the Family, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.”

National Right to Life Committee submitted a sworn 23-page affidavit to the elections commission detailing the legal reasons why the Affordable Care Act would enable federal funding of elective abortion, regardless of the executive order. (see coverage)

Dannenfelser said the “larger problem” with the commission’s ruling “is a public official’s attempt to use a criminal statute to silence legitimate debate on his record.” She said Driehaus should debate their position in the “public square” and not by taking the matter to the elections board or criminal court.

Driehaus filed the complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission on October 6 after learning that SBA List intended to put up four billboards across his district stating he voted for taxpayer-funded abortion. The billboards never went up as Driehaus’s lawyer convinced Lamar Companies not to erect the signs until the controversy had been resolved.

Both sides will now take sworn depositions for the full elections panel to consider. The panel is made of three Democrats, three Republicans, and one Independent (who already voted for “probable cause” against SBA List).

“This is a big deal,” said Driehaus, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. “The media made a big deal about this, (Steve) Chabot calling me a liar and now the Ohio Elections Commission came out on my side.”

Driehaus said SBA List is targeting him not because of pro-life concerns, but as a matter of partisan politics.

Driehaus faces re-election on November 2, and is trailing pro-life GOP candidate Steve Chabot, who is endorsed by SBA-List, by 12 points. National Democrats have given up on Driehaus’s campaign and are reallocating money to races they think they can save from the coming GOP surge in November.

If the Ohio Elections Commissions rules that SBA List made a “false statement” in its ads against Driehaus, the board will have two options. They may either issue a public reprimand or refer the matter to the local county prosecutor for criminal proceedings.

Under Ohio election law, the maximum penalty for making a criminally false campaign statement is six months in jail and/or a $5,000 fine.

See previous coverage by

Dem Candidate Charges SBA List with Criminally Misleading Ads: NRLC Responds

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