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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Oregon Legislature. This is a venue for political and policy coverage of the state government in Salem and its impact on the people of Oregon.

Oregon Lawmakers Consider Measure To Mandate Truthfulness In Voters Pamphlet

Kevin Mooney
Northwest News Network

Oregon politicians would have to tell the truth on the statements they file in the voters pamphlet under a measure being considered at the state legislature.

It's already illegal to lie about things like educational and professional background. That's tripped up a number of Oregon candidates including Congressman Wes Cooley. He dropped out of a re-election campaign in the mid-90s when he was accused of lying about serving in the Army Special Forces in Korea.

But apart from the short biographical section, office-seekers are free to write just about anything without fear of legal consequence.

"I could write in my voters pamphlet statement that I cured cancer and when I'm not in the legislature I am vacationing in my condo on the moon. And it would not matter,” said bill sponsor Republican Rep. Julie Parrish. ”Nobody could hold me accountable for what's in my voters pamphlet statement."

Members of the Oregon House Rules Committee say scrutiny by the public and the press can sometimes be more of a punishment than the threat of a fine or a prison sentence.

House Republican leader Mike McLane of Powell Butte said candidates who are caught telling lies in the voters pamphlet often face "such a swift rebuke in the public, that the criminal sanction, albeit legitimate, is certainly not the most pronounced in consequence."

The ACLU of Oregon called the bill "likely unconstitutional." In written testimony, ACLU lobbyist Kimberly McCullough said the issue is "likely to turn on whether a court would find that governmental regulation of knowingly false statements by a candidate was necessary to achieve" the goal of "protecting the integrity of its election process."