A bill before the Senate Government Operations, Tribal Relations & Elections would make it a crime to put false information in a voter’s pamphlet (the one paid for by the state that arrives with your ballot).
Anyone who does this, or allows a false statement to be made on his/her behalf would be guilty of a gross misdemeanor. According to the bill’s language a “false statement of material fact” would be a statement that would lead a person of ordinary intelligence to reasonably understand the statement as conveying information that is false. The proposal would give the Public Disclosure Commission the authority to fine someone up to $5,000 for lying.
The sponsor of the bill, Sen. Pam Roach, said she spent $1,700 last year to fight false statements that another candidate put in the voters’ pamphlet. In the end, she said, the judge ruled in her favor but the candidate was not punished. According to Sen. Roach they were only scolded for not acting in a respectful way.
Thanks to a measure passed by the Legislation a couple years ago, she said, candidates have 10 days after information has been turned in the voters’ pamphlet to challenge any alleged falsehoods. According to Sen. Roach about 35 communications were received last year alerting candidates that they may want to take a look at the statement made by their opponent.
“Today we have no penalties for lying in a voters’ pamphlet statement,” said Sen. Roach. She is not talking about the mailers that candidates pay for, she said, but the information that voters pay for. “It really is an important thing. I believe that we need to look at what we’ve done so far.”
Janet Jordon, a member of the Green Party of Washington testified in favor of the bill. She said she would also like to see legislation that would give political parties a space under a candidate, who claims affiliation with the party, to say whether or not they sponsor them.
“We don’t believe that government should be in the business of determinating truth or faslehood in political speech,” said Shankar Narayan with American Civil Liberties, who oppose the proposal. In 1998 and 2007 the Washington Supreme Court ruled against two state laws that aimed to prohibit lying in campaigns. Narayan said the bill takes the same unconstitutional approach and aims it at voters pamphlets. “We believe the court would strike this bill down as well.”
“Do you recognize that there is a difference between speech that is payed for by the candidate and that that is payed for by the tax payer?” Sen. Pam Roach said to Narayan.
“This is speech that is going directly to the public that this a representation of the candidates views,” said Narayan.