Friday, January 5, 2001
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Posted on: Friday, January 5, 2001

Campaign code got in way of First Amendment

Federal Judge Helen Gilmor was right on target this week when she threw out a voluntary state Code of Fair Campaign Practices as violating the First Amendment.

The sentiment behind the code was entirely sound: Campaigns should be waged on an above-board basis, with no unfair or untruthful accusations or dirty tricks.

It is how we want all our political campaigns to be conducted. But putting all this in to a formal code accompanied by sanctions crossed a thin line.

Tough things will be said during a vigorous campaign. They should be. The rhetoric of political battle is not necessarily polite.

Occasionally, the crossfire will slip from aggressive to unfair. At that point, it is the primary responsibility of the opposing candidate to point out the transgression.

Loss of the Fair Practices Code does not — and should not — open the door to campaigns founded on lies or slander. Truth and fairness remain standards all should follow.

But it should not be up to a state agency to decide what is fair and what is not. That’s a job for the voters.

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