Dory Waxman, Portland, Maine
Council candidate tries to ban opponent's flier
DORY WAXMAN had a problem. Her opponent for an at-large seat on the Portland City Council, incumbent Edward Suslovic (like her, a Democrat), had circulated a campaign flier quoting Maine House Speaker Glenn Cummings as praising Suslovic's "visionary" leadership.
But Waxman knew just what to do. Notwithstanding the fact that Suslovic's flier was entirely accurate, Waxman filed a complaint with the state ethics commission, arguing that the Cummings quote amounted to an endorsement by the Speaker. In reality, Cummings, also a Democrat, had declined to choose between either of his party mates. Waxman thus claimed that Suslovic's flier was false, and therefore illegal.
The commission — formally known as the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices — voted unanimously in Suslovic's favor. But the case was an annoying distraction, created by Waxman's embrace of a law aimed at stifling free speech.
This isn't the first time Maine's election laws have been the subject of a Muzzle Award. In 2007, we whacked the ethics commission for ruling that a Republican candidate for the state legislature, Cape Elizabeth resident Michael Mowles, had violated the law by recycling two-year-old endorsements (clearly labeled as such) from Maine's Republican senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. The ethics commission fined Mowles $1 and publicized its findings just before the primary election, which may have contributed to his loss to a fellow Republican.
Mowles had actually requested at least a token fine so he'd have standing to sue. And with the help of the Maine Civil Liberties Union, he succeeded in persuading Maine's Supreme Judicial Court to overturn the law. "American history cautions against governmental regulation of political speech," Chief Justice Leigh Saufley wrote in her decision last October. "Absent that caution, in the guise of the most benevolent purposes, an incumbent government could restrict the free flow of information and debate in the public marketplace of ideas."
As for Waxman, she defeated Suslovic last November — in part, Suslovic charged, because of a last-minute attack flier funded by one of her supporters. Ironic, to say the least. But fully protected by the First Amendment.