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Oregon Lawmakers Consider Measure To Mandate Truthfulness In Voters Pamphlet

Oregon voters must return their primary ballots by May 17.
Kevin Mooney
Northwest News Network

Oregon politicians would have to tell the truth on the statements they file in the voters pamphlet under a measure being considered at the state legislature.

It's already illegal to lie about things like educational and professional background. That's tripped up a number of Oregon candidates including Congressman Wes Cooley. He dropped out of a re-election campaign in the mid-90s when he was accused of lying about serving in the Army Special Forces in Korea.

But apart from the short biographical section, office-seekers are free to write just about anything without fear of legal consequence.

"I could write in my voters pamphlet statement that I cured cancer and when I'm not in the legislature I am vacationing in my condo on the moon. And it would not matter,” said bill sponsor Republican Rep. Julie Parrish. ”Nobody could hold me accountable for what's in my voters pamphlet statement."

Members of the Oregon House Rules Committee say scrutiny by the public and the press can sometimes be more of a punishment than the threat of a fine or a prison sentence.

House Republican leader Mike McLane of Powell Butte said candidates who are caught telling lies in the voters pamphlet often face "such a swift rebuke in the public, that the criminal sanction, albeit legitimate, is certainly not the most pronounced in consequence."

The ACLU of Oregon called the bill "likely unconstitutional." In written testimony, ACLU lobbyist Kimberly McCullough said the issue is "likely to turn on whether a court would find that governmental regulation of knowingly false statements by a candidate was necessary to achieve" the goal of "protecting the integrity of its election process."

Copyright 2017 Northwest News Network

Chris Lehman
Chris Lehman graduated from Temple University with a journalism degree in 1997. He landed his first job less than a month later, producing arts stories for Red River Public Radio in Shreveport, Louisiana. Three years later he headed north to DeKalb, Illinois, where he worked as a reporter and announcer for NPR–affiliate WNIJ–FM. In 2006 he headed west to become the Salem Correspondent for the Northwest News Network.