Federal Judge Approves Minnesota Law Banning Campaign Lies

Monday, February 04, 2013
281 CARE treasurer Ron Stoffel, advocate for false political statements

Minnesota’s law prohibiting lying in political campaigns has been upheld by a federal judge.


The Minnesota Fair Campaign Practices Act made it a gross misdemeanor for someone to intentionally prepare, disseminate, or broadcast political advertising or campaign material “that is designed or tends to elect, injure, promote, or defeat a candidate for nomination or election to a public office or to promote or defeat a ballot question, that is false, and that the person knows is false.”


The statute was challenged five years ago by the 281 CARE Committee and the Citizens for Quality Education, which campaign against ballot initiatives that raise taxes or fees for school district funding.


The plaintiffs claimed the law violated their free-speech rights and restricted their ability to participate in political debate. They lost their first trial before a federal judge in Minneapolis. But the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the ruling in May 2011.


That sent the matter to U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery, who ruled in favor of the defendants, two county attorneys and the state attorney general.


“Over a century ago, the Minnesota legislature implemented minimal, narrow restrictions against knowingly false speech about political candidates in an effort to protect the debates between honestly held beliefs that are at the core of the First Amendment,” Montgomery wrote.


“For nearly a quarter of a century, these restrictions have also applied to statements regarding ballot initiatives. The ballot provisions in Minn. Stat. § 211B.06 reflect a legislative judgment on behalf of Minnesotan citizens to guard against the malicious manipulation of the political process. The court finds that the provisions at issue are narrowly tailored to serve this compelling interest,” she added.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Political Campaigners Can't Lie in Minnesota (by Joe Harris, Courthouse News Service)

The First Amendment, Lies and Campaigns (by Robert Spicer, Campaigns & Elections)

281 CARE Committee v. Ross Arneson (U.S. District Court, Minnesota) (pdf)


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