An Oregon election law, ORS 260.532, prohibits a person from publishing a political advertisement or paying for a political advertisement with knowledge or reckless disregard that the advertisement contains a false statement of material fact relating to any candidate, political committee or measure. A candidate with knowledge or reckless disregard that an advertisement contains a false statement violates this law even if the candidate did not participate in the advertisement’s publication. There is a rebuttable presumption that a candidate knows of and consents to the use of a false statement that is published by the candidate’s political committee.
If this law is violated, there are two potential sanctions for the dishonest candidate or political committee. First, any candidate or political committee harmed by the false statement can recover damages and the offending party may be required to publish a retraction of the false statement. Second, if the false statement was deliberately made or deliberately caused to be made by a candidate and if it is determined that the candidate’s false statement reversed the election, that candidate will be deprived of the office to which he or she was elected, unless that candidate was elected to the Oregon Senate or the Oregon House. Persons deliberately making false statements who are elected to the House or Senate may have to pay damages but they still get to serve as a state Senator or Representative.
The exclusion of a person running for the Oregon Senate or House from this office forfeiture law is more than curious. Why should the Governor, the Attorney General, the Secretary of State, the State Treasure, Judges and all other elected officials be subject to losing office for deliberately making false statements, when no such penalty exists for legislators who deliberately make false statements? One obvious reason is because the legislators make the laws and they know that false statements about their opponent in a close election can be very effective.
The law protecting legislators from losing their office for deliberately making false statements may be good for some bad legislators but it is not good for Oregon. It prevents the people from getting accurate information and it encourages dishonesty in the legislative process. A person elected by deliberately making false statements is not likely to change his or her ways once in the legislature. Oregon can do better than this.