COLUMBUS The Ohio Elections Commission unanimously slapped congressional candidate Bob Latta with a reprimand after ruling today that his congressional campaign knowingly or recklessly lied about opponent Steve Buehrer s positions in political flyers.
Even the Latta campaign s attorney, Scott Pullins, admitted statements that Mr. Buehrer opposed prayer in public schools and didn t want the Ten Commandments posted were misleading, a cheap shot, and a political low blow.
But he argued unsuccessfully that the false statements did not rise to the level of a violation of Ohio election law.
Mr. Latta and Mr. Buehrer are campaigning for the GOP nomination for the 5th District congressional seat, which will be decided in tomorrow s election. The seat became open with the death of Paul Gillmor, and will be decided in a special election on Dec. 11.
Today s reprimand marks the most severe stance taken to date by the bipartisan commission in dueling complaints filed by both sides. The commission had previously found that state Senator Buehrer (R., Delta) and a Washington political action committee supporting him had made false statements about Mr. Latta s 1998 vote related to taxes, but imposed no penalties against either.
The commission had the option of referring either candidate for possible criminal prosecution, but opted not to.
At issue were for varying statements included in Latta mailings in October that Mr. Buehrer opposed prayer in public schools and didn t want the Ten Commandments posted.
The Latta campaign extrapolated the statements from a 2002 Vote Smart survey that asked candidates to check specific positions they support. Mr. Buehrer left statements about prayer and the Ten Commandments blank.
Losing a valuable day of campaigning the day before the election, Mr. Buehrer told the commission that a disclaimer with that survey specifically stated that failure to make a mark next to those statements did not necessarily indicate opposition.
He also noted that, while both were serving in the Ohio House, state Representative Latta (R., Bowling Green) had an office adjacent to his where Mr. Buehrer has had the Ten Commandments posted since 2003.
Mr. Latta was in and out of my office numerous times and the document was always posted where he or anyone else could see it, he said. He added he supports voluntary prayer in schools and the voluntary posting of the Ten Commandments in government buildings, including schools.
I would certainly not be in favor of mandatory posting of the Ten Commandments, he said. I don t think public schools should have the Ten Commandments stuffed down their throats, but I certainly think that if the word voluntary would have been in that (survey question), I would have supported it.
Scott Pullins, attorney for the Latta campaign, stopped just short of issuing an apology.
It s not reckless, he told the commission. Was it misleading? Yes. Was it a cheap shot? Yes. Was it a political low-blow? Yes. Did I want that statement to go out? No. Does the Latta campaign regret making that statement. Yes. But that s not the standard this commission has to comply.
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