True or False? Brown threatens legal action

Representatives of Massachusetts Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown say Democratic candidate Martha Coakley has until Tuesday to retract an incendiary campaign mailing or Brown will take legal action. At issue is a Coakley flier charging that Brown would have Massachusetts hospitals turn away all rape victims, a claim which a Brown spokeswoman called “a lie,” “patently false,” and “atrocious.” “The campaign is calling on Martha Coakley and [Massachusetts Democratic Party chairman] John Walsh to retract the false statement,” says Tarah Donoghue, a spokeswoman for the state Republican party who is speaking on behalf of the Brown campaign. “We’re going to give them until Tuesday morning to do the right thing.”

The flier, sent recently to voters by the Massachusetts Democratic Party, says: 1,736 WOMEN WERE RAPED IN MASSACHUSETTS IN 2008.  SCOTT BROWN WANTS HOSPITALS TO TURN THEM ALL AWAY.

The inner pages of the flier claim Brown will “take us backwards on women’s health and rights.” While Brown objects to the entire content of the ad, his lawyer argues that the front page is such an outrageous falsehood that it violates Massachusetts law governing false statements in political campaigns.

“The lie is on the front page, which is what the voter sees when they open up their mail,” says Dan Winslow, counsel for the Brown campaign. “There is a lot of room in a political campaign for rough and tumble and sharp elbows and advocacy. But the bottom line is, you can’t lie. You cannot lie to try to win an election, particularly at the 11th hour when it may be too late to change the lie. That in itself corrupts the democratic process.”

Winslow cites a state law which says “No person shall make or publish, or cause to be made or published, any false statement in relation to any candidate for nomination or election to public office, which is designed or tends to aid or to injure or defeat such candidate.”

The controversy stems from a 2005 Massachusetts law which requires hospitals to make emergency contraceptives available to rape victims. During debate on the law, state senator Brown offered an amendment that would have exempted medical professionals with “sincerely held religious beliefs,” particularly at a number of Catholic hospitals in Massachusetts, from the law’s requirement to provide emergency contraception. If no one at a given hospital could provide the contraception, Brown’s amendment required that hospital to transfer the rape victim to another facility where she could receive emergency contraception, at no cost to the victim. Brown’s amendment failed, but he voted in favor of the final bill.

Coakley’s campaign has hit Brown on the issue at several points in the campaign, running ads that said, “Brown even favors letting hospitals deny emergency contraception to rape victims.” But the new flier takes Coakley’s accusations to a new level, charging that Brown would have hospitals turn away all rape victims. While Brown objected to the earlier ads, saying they distorted his record, he did not threaten legal action until the new flier was sent out.

Not only did Brown vote in favor of the final emergency contraception bill, his campaign says he also made it very clear during the debate that he supported emergency contraception for rape victims. To bolster his case, the Brown campaign provided the Washington Examiner a copy of Brown’s talking points from June 2005, from which he made his remarks to the Senate. “First and foremost, I fully support this legislation and recognize the importance of access to EC [emergency contraception] for rape victims,” reads the first talking point.

“This amendment will not hinder the distribution of emergency contraception throughout the Commonwealth,” the talking points continue (emphasis in the original). “I am offering this amendment because I feel that it is wrong to mandate an individual to do something that is against their ‘sincerely held religious beliefs.'” In addition to the talking points, the Brown campaign also provided what it called “a contemporaneous (but not verbatim) narrative of [Brown’s] remarks made on the Senate floor by State House News Service.” That narrative supports Brown’s version of events.

Nevertheless, the Coakley ad has been sent out, and its timing presents a particularly difficult situation for Brown. The Brown campaign issued the threat of legal action on Saturday, but given that local courts will be closed on Sunday and also on Monday, the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, Brown’s lawyers could not take any action until Tuesday at the earliest. And Tuesday, of course, just happens to be Election Day.

Still, Brown appears determined to act, even if the final resolution of the controversy is irrelevant to the outcome of the election. “The law creates a forum after the election for the facts to come out,” Winslow says. “Scott Brown cannot have this lie stand.”

Published in: on January 21, 2010 at 8:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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