Minnesota can prohibit political campaign workers from swaying an election by intentionally lying about a candidate or ballot question, a federal judge ruled.
The Minnesota Fair Campaign Act makes it a gross misdemeanor for anyone “who intentionally participates in the preparation, dissemination, or broadcast of paid political advertising or campaign material with respect to the personal or political character or acts of a candidate, or with respect to the effect of a ballot question, that is designed or tends to elect, injure, promote, or defeat a candidate for nomination or election to a public office or to promote or defeat a ballot question, that is false, and that the person knows is false or communicates to others with reckless disregard of whether it is false.”
It drew a challenge in 2008 from the 281 CARE Committee and the Citizens for Quality Education, which campaign against ballot initiatives that seek increased funding for school districts through bond increases and tax levies. The groups claimed that the law violated their right to free speech and chills their ability to participate in rigorous political debate. A federal judge in Minneapolis dismissed the complaint for lack of standing, but the 8th Circuit reversed in May 2011.
On remand, U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery granted summary judgment to the defendants, who consisted of two county attorneys and the state attorney general.
“Plaintiffs correctly note that our countrys forefathers used rancourous[sic], sometimes false statements to influence voters or even gain material benefits for themselves,” Montgomery wrote.
“But whats past is not always prologue. Over a century ago, the Minnesota legislature implemented minimal, narrow restrictions against knowingly false speech about political candidates in an effort to protect the debates between honestly held beliefs that are at the core of the First Amendment. For nearly a quarter of a century, these restrictions have also applied to statements regarding ballot initiatives. The ballot provisions in Minn. Stat. § 211B.06 reflect a legislative judgment on behalf of Minnesotan citizens to guard against the malicious manipulation of the political process. The court finds that the provisions at issue are narrowly tailored to serve this compelling interest.”
Though Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson had sought dismissal on the basis of qualified immunity, Montgomery deemed this question moot.