PRESS RELEASE: Ohio Elections Commission Rules against "Pro-Life" Group in Abortion Funding Ad Dispute

Posted October 14, 2010

Susan B. Anthony List, Other Anti-Reform Organizations Could be Penalized for False Ads

Washington, DC – The Ohio Elections Commission today found probable cause that the group Susan B. Anthony List broke the law by falsely asserting in political advertisements that Congressman Steve Dreihaus (OH-01) voted to allow federal funding of abortion. The ruling has wide-reaching implications for self-described pro-life groups currently engaged in smear campaigns against a number of elected officials who voted for the health care reform act earlier this year.

Since the bill passed, a host of organizations – including the Susan B. Anthony List, Americans United for Life, National Right to Life Committee, Family Research Council, and the National Republican Congressional Committee – have used the false abortion funding claim to improperly influence the November elections. In doing so, they ignored expert analyses and independent fact-checks showing that the abortion funding claim was inaccurate. The ruling has national implications because similar ads sponsored by the Susan B. Anthony List and Americans United for Life are running against numerous Democratic Congressional candidates, including Reps. John Boccieri (OH-16), Kathy Dalhkemper (PA-03), Joe Donnelly (IN-02), and Tom Perriello (VA-05).

“The Ohio Election Commission's probable cause finding confirms what we've said all along: that organizations like the Susan B. Anthony List are deliberately spreading lies for political gain,” said Chris Korzen, executive director of Catholics United. “In doing so, these groups have betrayed the voters and made a mockery of the democratic process.”

The commission's finding comes in response to a legal complaint filed by the Driehaus campaign, and supported by affidavits from Catholics United and Democrats for Life of America (DFLA). Included in the DFLA affidavit is an inside account of conversations with National Right to Life president Doug Johnson and Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser. Accordingly, Johnson stated in a January 2010 meeting that after final health care reform bill language was released, his group could not say that the legislation funded abortion. More recently, Dannenfelser could not identify sources of abortion funding in the bill during an email exchange with DFLA executive director Kristen Day.

On October 8th, Catholics United released a letter signed by 36 Cincinnati clergy and lay leaders – including 11 Catholic nuns – denouncing the attack ads as “inflammatory and misleading” and calling for their removal.

The Elections Commission has not yet set a date for the next hearing to examine evidence from both sides. If the Commission rules that campaign laws were in fact violated, the SBA List could face criminal prosecution, fines, and even jail time.

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