First Amendment Think Tank: "Oklahoma Clean Campaigns Act" Poses Serious First Amendment Concerns

Oklahoma Bloggers Beware!

The Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) highlighted serious First Amendment concerns in H.B. 2196, the “Oklahoma Clean Campaigns Act of 2008,” in a letter the educational group sent today to Governor Brad Henry. The bill would make it a crime for any person to intentionally participate in the dissemination of false political advertising. The engrossed bill currently awaits the governor’s signature or veto.

CCP is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that works to protect the First Amendment political rights of speech, assembly and petition. If enacted, the bill “would place a chill upon political speakers of all varieties and undermine the robust nature of political debate in Oklahoma,” writes CCP president Sean Parnell in the letter to the governor. While truth in political speech is important, the specific provisions of the bill, “puts the government in the position of determining what constitutes ‘truth’ in an arena where what is ‘truth’ is itself often the focus of fierce debate,” Parnell counsels.

The bill relies on a vague standard that “allows the State to determine the ‘truth’ of any communication that relates to the ‘character, voting record or acts of the candidate,'” Parnell continues. “Statements about the ‘character’ of a candidate are more opinion than fact; they are characterizations. A governmental system that determines the ‘truth’ of a characterization, under penalty of law, is a standard so vague and overbroad that to enforce it would chill speech of every variety.”

Parnell notes that in an opinion overturning a similarly crafted Washington state law last year the Washington State Supreme Court wrote, “the notion that the government, rather than the people, may be the final arbiter of truth in political debate is fundamentally at odds with the First Amendment.”

“As the Supreme Court of Washington aptly put it, a provision like the Oklahoma proposal ‘naively assumes that the government is capable of correctly and consistently negotiating the thin line between fact and opinion in political speech,'” Parnell concludes.

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