MCLU Says Candidate’s Right to Exercise Political Speech Violated

Affiliate: ACLU of Maine
March 2, 2007 12:00 am

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PORTLAND, ME – On Monday, the Maine Civil Liberties Union will argue in Cumberland County Superior Court that a Maine law restricting political speech is unconstitutional.

Michael Mowles, a Town Councilor in Cape Elizabeth, became the subject of harmful scrutiny during his bid for the Republican primary nomination for state representative after the Maine election commission publicly criticized his campaign literature. In 2004, Mowles’s candidacy for the Maine House of Representatives was endorsed by United States Senators Olympia J. Snowe and Susan M. Collins. In his 2006 run for the same office, he distributed leaflets that included quotations from the previous election’s senatorial endorsements, each with the attribution “October 2004” printed after it. His opponent in the 2006 Republican primary, Jennifer Duddy, filed a complaint with the commission alleging that Mowles circulated a misleading leaflet. The concurring decision of the commission was widely reported in local papers, and Mowles lost to Duddy in the primary.

“The government doesn’t have the right to control political speech,” said Shenna Bellows, Executive Director of the MCLU. “Mr. Mowles was making use of comments already in the public sphere. It’s up to the people, not his opponent and not the government, to decide whether or not that’s appropriate.”

The commission claimed that Mowles did not have the proper written authorization for a campaign endorsement, and found him guilty of using misleading campaign material. The MCLU disputes the state’s role in regulating such speech.

“The commission is on shaky ground here,” said Zachary Heiden, a staff attorney for the MCLU. “The First Amendment makes it clear that the government should not be in the business of regulating speech.”

“Our elections system is based upon a free marketplace of ideas,” said David A. Lourie, MCLU volunteer attorney for the plaintiff. “The decision about whether a politician’s speech is foolish, inappropriate, or misleading rests with the voters, not the government.”

MCLU cooperating attorney David A. Lourie filed an administrative appeal and constitutional challenge last July. Heiden will be arguing on Mowles’s behalf on Monday before Superior Court Justice Robert Crowley at 1:30 p.m., at the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland.

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