Lost in the sound of separation

By AL DIAMON  |  October 29, 2008

“When the government undertakes to tell politicians what they can and cannot say in the course of an election, we must all be cautious,” wrote Chief Justice Leigh Saufley for the unanimous court. “The government may restrict the speech of political candidates only when it can clearly advance a compelling reason for the restriction. Avoiding substantive confusion among the voters regarding political issues simply does not present such a compelling interest.”

This decision bodes well for both free speech and the possibility that ethical determinations could once again be made not by a government commission, but by ordinary citizens casting ballots. Before that can happen, though, the state’s highest court needs to throw out a few more statutes.

Earlier this month, the ethics commission got a complaint about a Republican state Senate candidate from Orono, who distributed a flier criticizing not only her Democratic opponent, but also other area Democrats for being part of what she called “The Baldacci Bunch.”

That’s illegal?

Yes, according to the ethical overseers. The Maine Clean Election Act prohibits candidates receiving public money from attempting to influence races other than their own. Commissioner Francis Marsano was quoted in the media as saying, “I think what is important here is to send a message that this type of expenditure should not be made.”

In China, maybe.

The Marsano Mob (am I allowed to say that?) needs a reality check. I hope there’s another appeal, and this time, the justices give candidates back the right to be not just prevaricators but provocateurs.

Tell me the truth by e-mailing aldiamon@herniahill.net.

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