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Free Speech

Void where prohibited

Minnesota Statute 211B.06:

211B.06 FALSE POLITICAL AND CAMPAIGN MATERIAL; PENALTY; EXCEPTIONS.

Subdivision 1. Gross misdemeanor. A person is guilty of a gross misdemeanor 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.

A person is guilty of a misdemeanor who intentionally participates in the drafting of a letter to the editor 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 any 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.

Subd. 2. Exception. Subdivision 1 does not apply to any person or organization whose sole act is, in the normal course of their business, the printing, manufacturing, or dissemination of the false information.

History: 1988 c 578 art 3 s 6; 1998 c 376 s 3

Just to be snarky, we can refer to subdivision 2 as the “Star Tribune Clause.”

The statute clearly regulates what people can or can’t say around election time. For some reason the time around elections are seen by the government as “special” and somehow different than the humdrum day to day existence “the subjects” otherwise lead.

Obviously, when your job involves winning elections, controlling those elections becomes of some note and importance. While there are some rational reasons to support Statute 211B.06 it is nonetheless censorship. The Statute exists in defiance of both the Minnesota Constitution:

Sec. 3. LIBERTY OF THE PRESS. The liberty of the press shall forever remain inviolate, and all persons may freely speak, write and publish their sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of such right.

And the US Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

I mention all of this because of a recent Star Tribune article dealing with some fallout from the recent round of school levys:

Its supporters say it’s a crucial tool in keeping even the most vitriolic elections truthful.

To detractors, though, Minnesota Statute 211B.06 puts a damper on free speech and severely restricts what anyone can say or write about a candidate or an election issue.

Now, the state law has surfaced in the wake of an ugly levy referendum in the Robbinsdale school district, where an outside consultant was brought in to scuttle a district tax request, and pro-levy forces were tossing around charges that the anti-levy side indulged in distortions, lies and race-baiting.

Some say the lawsuit stemming from the Robbinsdale case — which is aimed at declaring the law unconstitutional — could have far-reaching implications.

The article goes on and gives various viewpoints on the lawsuit and you’ll have to read them for yourself. As I mentioned before, there are reasonable and rational arguments in favor of the statute in question. I for one do want honest and robust campaigns. I’d like those campaigns to be free of BS and lies.

What I don’t want is the government deciding what “truth” is. (George Orwell, “1984” anyone?) It is a genuine conflict of interest to have the people who are elected control what can and can’t be said during an election; it is an invitation for cronyism and corruption. These things should be decided in the public sphere, not by government.

The cure for “bad” speech is more speech, not more speech regulations.

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Random Link o’ the Day:

http://www.anti-environmental.com/

RNC Video