Paul LePage's Campaign Fact-Check Proposal Could Be Unconstitutional

FILE - In this March 10, 2014, file photo, Maine Gov. Paul LePage speaks during a news conference in Brunswick, Maine. LePage
FILE - In this March 10, 2014, file photo, Maine Gov. Paul LePage speaks during a news conference in Brunswick, Maine. LePage pledged to make his administration one of the most transparent in the state?s history when he ran for office. State officials admitted in a public hearing Friday, March 14, 2014, that the Maine?s Centers for Disease Control destroyed documents related to the selection criteria for distributing grants. LePage's political opponents say it contradicts his promise of open government, but LePage officials said it?s an isolated incident. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

A proposal by Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) to have the state's ethics panel fact-check campaign statements is raising concerns about possible First Amendment violations.

LePage's proposal would instruct the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices to investigate complaints of false statements made in House, Senate and gubernatorial political campaigns. The proposal is LePage's "attempt to bring civility to the process," his office said.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, however, expressed concern that the proposal would violate individuals' First Amendment rights.

"We agree that it is unfortunate that when politicians, business leaders and anyone else attempts to deliberately mislead the public, but it's a much greater threat to our democracy to have the government presume to decide for the public what is truth and what is falsehood," said Oamshri Amarasingham, public policy counsel for the group, according to the Associated Press.

Amarasingham also pointed to a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision in which a candidate who was prosecuted for making false claims had his conviction overturned with a ruling that the claims were protected by the Constitution, the Portland Press Herald reports.

Hank Fenton, LePage's deputy legal counsel, said he doesn't believe the law would be unconstitutional since there isn't a fine for those found guilty of making false statements.

The bill was introduced to the state legislature Wednesday, and the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee is expected to to make a recommendation to the legislature in the coming days, The Bangor Daily News reports.



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