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Nation & World

Group seeks to bypass Ohio ban on campaign lies

CINCINNATI – A national anti-abortion group wants a federal court to block an Ohio law barring people from recklessly making false statements about candidates seeking elective office.

The Susan B. Anthony List filed a motion Friday in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati, asking that the law not be enforced while the group continues to challenge its constitutionality. The motion says the statute violates free speech rights and "chills core political speech."

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that the group could challenge the law, raising doubts about whether Ohio's law and similar ones in other states can survive complaints that they violate free speech rights.

The anti-abortion group challenged Ohio's ban when it tried to post billboards attacking then-U.S. Rep. Steve Driehaus in 2010. The planned ads accused him of supporting taxpayer-funded abortion with his vote for President Barack Obama's health care law. Driehaus filed a formal complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission, saying the ads misrepresented the facts and violated Ohio's false speech law. The billboard owner feared threatened legal action by Driehaus and declined to post the ads. Driehaus dropped the case after losing his re-election bid.

When the Susan B. Anthony List challenged the law's constitutionality, a federal judge said the group didn't have the right to sue because the case had been dropped and the group hadn't suffered actual harm. An appeals court agreed.

The Supreme Court didn't rule on the Ohio law's constitutionality but sent the case back to the lower court to consider the question.

The anti-abortion group during the 2014 midterm elections plans to criticize members of Congress who voted for the health care law. The group maintains that its statement about the health care law allowing for taxpayer-funded abortion is true, group spokeswoman Mallory Quigley said Saturday. The Obama administration has steadfastly denied that.

"If granted, this injunction will allow us to continue our efforts to inform voters without fear of prosecution," Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, said in a statement on the group's website.

DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney said Saturday that the attorney general's office will defend the constitutionality of the Ohio law. But he also said that DeWine will continue to make the courts aware of his significant First Amendment concerns on the issue.

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