Did you know Oregon is one of sixteen states that have a law that bans false statements against someone running for public office? Seriously, ORS 260.532 reads:
(1) No person shall cause to be written, printed, published, posted, communicated or circulated, any letter, circular, bill, placard, poster, photograph or other publication, or cause any advertisement to be placed in a publication, or singly or with others pay for any advertisement, with knowledge or with reckless disregard that the letter, circular, bill, placard, poster, photograph, publication or advertisement contains a false statement of material fact relating to any candidate, political committee or measure.
(2) As used in subsection (1) of this section, “cause” does not include the broadcast of an advertisement by a radio or television station or cable television company unless the advertisement is for:
(a) The candidacy of the owner, licensee or operator of the station or company; or
(b) A ballot measure of which a chief petitioner is the owner, licensee or operator of the station or company.
(3) A candidate who knows of and consents to a publication or advertisement prohibited by this section with knowledge or with reckless disregard that it contains a false statement of material fact, violates this section regardless of whether the candidate has participated directly in the publication or advertisement.
(4) There is a rebuttable presumption that a candidate knows of and consents to any publication or advertisement prohibited by this section caused by a political committee over which the candidate exercises any direction and control.
But this isn’t quite a criminal code. Instead, it enables a campaign to sue a party that puts out false information. The statute goes on to say:
(5) Any candidate or political committee aggrieved by a violation of this section shall have a right of action against the person alleged to have committed the violation. The aggrieved party may file the action in the circuit court for any county in this state in which a defendant resides or can be found or, if the defendant is a nonresident of this state, in the circuit court for any county in which the publication occurred. To prevail in such an action, the plaintiff must show by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant violated subsection (1) of this section.
(6) A plaintiff who prevails in an action provided by subsection (5) of this section may recover economic and noneconomic damages, as defined in ORS 31.710, or $2,500, whichever is greater. The court may award such additional equitable relief as it considers necessary or proper. The equitable relief may include, but is not limited to, a requirement that a retraction of the false statement be disseminated in the manner directed by the court. Proof of entitlement to economic and noneconomic damages must be by a preponderance of evidence. The court shall award the prevailing party reasonable attorney fees at trial and on appeal.
(7) A political committee has standing to bring an action provided by subsection (5) of this section as plaintiff in its own name, if its purpose as evidenced by its preelection activities, solicitations and publications has been injured by the violation and if it has fully complied with the provisions of this chapter. In an action brought by a political committee as provided by subsection (5) of this section, the plaintiff may recover economic and noneconomic damages for all injury to the purpose of the committee as provided in subsection (6) of this section.
(8) If a judgment is rendered in an action under this section against a defendant who has been nominated to public office or elected to a public office other than state Senator or state Representative, and it is established by clear and convincing evidence that the false statement was deliberately made or caused to be made by the defendant, the finder of fact shall determine whether the false statement reversed the outcome of the election. If the finder of fact finds by clear and convincing evidence that the false statement reversed the outcome of the election, the defendant shall be deprived of the nomination or election and the nomination or office shall be declared vacant.
(9) An action under this section must be filed not later than the 30th day after the election relating to which a publication or advertisement in violation of this section was made. Proceedings on a complaint filed under this section shall have precedence over all other business on the docket. The courts shall proceed in a manner which will ensure that:
(a) Final judgment on a complaint which relates to a primary election or nominating election is rendered before the 30th day before the general election; and
(b) Final judgment on a complaint which relates to an election to an office is rendered before the term of that office begins.
(10) The remedy provided by this section is the exclusive remedy for a violation of this section.
This does not appear to get used much. It probably shouldn’t.
Eric Shierman lives in Salem and is the author of We were winning when I was there.