Beachcombing

By: 
Gerrie Schipske

With impeccable timing on her part, Gerrie Schipske wrote an opinion piece that addressed what we were thinking.

There Outta Be a Law When Politicians Lie – But There Isn’t

The primary election is over. The direct mail pieces thrown away. The texts and tweets erased. Some candidates have won their primary and Long Beach has a new tax on its utilities.

So what recourse do voters have when politicians lie, either about themselves or their opponent or a ballot measure? Nothing.

The U.S. Supreme Court made it very clear in 2014 when it ruled 6-3 in United States v. Alvarez that the First Amendment which protects free speech, protects all speech, even false speech. The court also laid the groundwork for invalidating the State of Ohio’s law that makes it illegal to knowingly or recklessly make false statements about a candidate during an election when it ruled unanimously in 2016 that the law could be challenged before it was enforced.

The court’s rulings lay out the argument that it is so important to protect speech and that it would destroy free speech to punish politicians who lie. The rulings also raise several questions: Who determines the truth or untruth of a matter? What is the remedy – do you fine the politician or criminally prosecute?

Clearly the court believes that it should be the voters who decide the truth not the government or the courts. The voter needs to fact check and if you think a politician is lying, then don’t vote for that politician or ballot measure.

But here is the catch: What if you can’t find out what the facts are? Take for instance Measure M. The city spent over $700,000 placing this measure on the ballot and mailing “informational pieces” in the utility bills. The direct mail piece included the same “threat” to cut services that was sent to voters in 2015 to get a vote to hike sales taxes to the highest in the state. Additional “independent” money was sent on countless direct mail all slanted in support of the measure.

The city attorney wrote an “impartial analysis” of the measure. Arguments pro and con were written by city officials and taxpayer advocates. These materials were to be mailed to each and every voter in Long Beach – however many voters received the materials “after” they mailed in their absentee ballot.

Then came an onslaught of texts, tweets and talk from the mayor and several city council members using what were blatantly false statements. (I sent a complaint to the city attorney and he sent a “confidential memo” to the offenders, but they continued.)

The mayor and several city councilmembers told you: Measure M was not a tax – which it is, under Propositions 218 and 26. And, they even voted in council on a resolution stating that Measure M is a general tax.

They also claimed that Measure M would only transfer “surplus utility” funds, which it does not. It transfers “gross revenues” and allows the City Council to raise your utility rates to pay for the transfers. Now does that sound like surplus to anyone?

So, what is a Long Beach voter to do when its elected officials text, tweet and talk lies?

 gerrie@beachcomber.news

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