Ohio ACLU Wins Kidwell Case in Elections Commission
In a victory for free speech, the Ohio Elections Commission this morning dismissed a complaint against Union, Ohio resident Ronald Kidwell. ACLU volunteer attorney, Professor Richard Saphire represented Kidwell before the commission in this morning’s hearing. Commission members asked only a few questions after Saphire had completed his presentation before voting unanimously to dismiss the charges against Kidwell. The charges dismissed this morning stemmed from allegations that Kidwell had engaged in improper campaign activity by inviting candidates for local election to post materials on his web site. The Commission rejected these claims, noting that Kidwell’s site enjoyed the protection of the First Amendment. Professor Richard Saphire called the decision a victory for grassroots political speech: “Ronald Kidwell is a public citizen who has done his community a service by providing a forum in which matters of local concern may be discussed. The First Amendment was designed to protect exactly this kind of activity, and today the Ohio Elections Commission wisely decided that efforts like these are fully protected under the law.”
Kidwell’s civic-minded effort to provide a forum for residents to learn about candidates for local office landed him in trouble with the Ohio Elections Commission. Kidwell’s web site, Union Focus, is designed to provide the Union, Ohio community with local news and information. At election time, Kidwell offered all candidates the opportunity to post information about themselves and their positions. Several challengers posted biographical information and position statements, but no incumbents accepted the offer. Kidwell, who neither endorsed a particular candidate, nor ran a campaign of his own, was charged by the Commission with violating Ohio election law. The law that Kidwell had allegedly violated requires Political Action Committees (PAC’s) to disclose their identity when advertising on behalf of a candidate and requires political campaigns to designate a treasurer.
The application of these rules to Kidwell have serious First Amendment repercussions, according to Christine Link, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio Foundation. “These regulations are, by their very terms, aimed at the conduct of candidates and the questions surrounding campaign financing. They simply do not apply in this case,” Link added. “What is at issue here is core political expression. Nobody needs a bureaucratic license to post news of local interest on his personal web site, and the American Civil Liberties Union intends to do whatever is necessary to be certain that it stays that way.”