Thursday, August 5, 2010

A non-profit legal advocacy firm is asking the Ohio Elections Commission to dismiss a complaint from a county elections board that contends a blogger violated campaign finance laws with postings that, among other things, target “RINOs” – Republicans in Name Only.

The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law characterized a filing from the Geauga County Board of Elections against Edmund Corsi as “an apparent retaliatory action against an outspoken critic.”

Attorney Maurice Thompson, representing Mr. Corsi, said a law dealing with disclaimers on political publications for or against candidates, which the board cited in its complaint, is unconstitutional as applied to the activities of the blogger.

Mr. Thompson said the “Geauga Constitutional Council” is only the name of a website, and that Mr. Corsi’s name cannot be found on it or on any pamphlets circulated on its behalf.

“(In) fact, Mr. Corsi uses GCC as a pseudonym to effectively criticize his government and avoid retaliation,” the attorney told the OEC in a memo Wednesday.

Mr. Corsi’s blog has criticized several government and political officials, among them Edward Ryder. Mr. Ryder is chairman of the Geauga County Republican Party, and is a member of the Board of Elections.

Central to the dispute is a political “most unwanted list” of persons who are referred to as RINOs, including former Rep. Matt Dolan (R-Cleveland) and Judge Colleen O’Toole of the 11th District Court of Appeals.

State law prohibits a candidate, campaign committee, political party “or other entity,” with certain exceptions, of issuing “a form of political publication for or against a candidate” without including the name and address of those responsible.

Mr. Thompson argues in the OEC memo that the elections board improperly applied the disclaimer statute to Mr. Corsi’s activities, and infringed upon his First Amendment right to criticize the government.

“Today’s independent printers and pamphleteers are independent bloggers, who undeniably enhance the quantity of core political speech,” Mr. Thompson said.

“Application of (disclaimer law) disclosure requirements to this class undermines the principles underlying the freedom of the press, alongside Ohio’s broad protection of the publishing of sentiments, and accordingly, is patently unconstitutional,” the attorney said.

Mr. Thompson said that unless the OEC rules for Mr. Corsi, the disclaimer law would be used as “a political weapon to silence opposition, and thereby chill core political speech” that the First Amendment protects.

“Should independent bloggers in Ohio be subject to registration, political disclosure laws, and fines simply because they discuss Ohio politics, and are critical of certain politicians? The Constitution says otherwise,” Mr. Thompson said.

He said the state law violates a federal right to anonymous political speech, places an impermissible prior restraint on such speech, and applies an overbroad regulation and prohibition on political speech that is not express advocacy.

Although the case is currently scheduled for an Aug. 19 meeting of the OEC, both Mr. Thompson and the Geauga County Board of Elections have asked for a continuance.

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