An administrative judge panel has ruled in favor of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life and the Senate Victory Fund in an unfair campaign practice charge brought by Terry Sluss of Baxter, the MCCL reported in a news release Friday.
Sluss, an unsuccessful candidate for the District 12 Senate seat in 2006, claimed that the two organizations were involved in a mailing that violated a campaign statute that prohibits an organization from knowingly publishing or sending out material that it knows is false. The mailing was sent out days before the election.
Sluss has said that he consistently told voters he was pro-life. Postcards prepared by the MCCL and paid for by the Senate Victory Fund stated "Terry Sluss refused to commit to any legal protection for innocent unborn babies."
"I believe that unfortunately the judges on the panel misapplied the law," Sluss said in a statement Saturday. "Essentially, the decision says that the MCCL had no obligation to do any independent research to support their statement published without the opportunity for me to respond, in a postcard they sent out only days before the November election. ... The administrative judge panel acknowledges that the statements were misleading but not false based upon their interpretations of the law. This decision will allow future campaign literature to make any claim they want without checking the public record. There is now a huge hole in the campaign laws of Minnesota that will undoubtedly lead to further dirty, nasty abuses of campaign law."
James Bopp Jr., counsel for MCCL State PAC, said in a news release that this result vindicates MCCL's careful use of candidate surveys and pre-election postcards to inform voters about candidate positions on life issues. He said it also highlights the importance of candidate responses to MCCL surveys in the future. Candidates who simply refuse to respond shouldn't complain about public statements saying that they refused to take a position on life issues, Bopp said.
"I was attacked at the last minute by a single issue group that apparently did no research about my personal position, and mailed that derogatory postcard to thousands of voters in order to control the democratic process with misleading information," Sluss said. "I have consistently indicated that I support life. I have supported that statement through my 10 years in elective service to the citizens of Crow Wing County. ... I have no regrets. I lost the election to Senator (Paul) Koering. I won't give up my concern for central Minnesota as I understand this decision. I agonize over the potential that citizens will now face lies and malicious attacks against anyone who dares to offer their professional expertise and educated knowledge base in order to face certain attack when they attempt to serve the public interest."
Sluss, a former Crow Wing County Board commissioner, was defeated Nov. 7, 2006, by Koering, R-Fort Ripley. According to the MCCL, Sluss refused to answer a candidate survey from the MCCL in the Spring of 2006. He was then contacted by the MCCL by telephone to follow up and Sluss reportedly explained that he didn't believe in responding to PAC surveys, the MCCL said. As a result, the MCCL distributed a postcard endorsing his opponent, Koering.
Sluss testified he did not respond to the MCCL questionnaire largely because MCCL had already endorsed his opponent in the primary and had run advertisements in local newspapers in support of Koering's campaign.
According to the MCCL, a three-judge panel of the Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings ruled Thursday that Sluss failed to demonstrate that the MCCL had violated the statute and dismissed the complaint. The panel also denied Sluss's request for reimbursement for attorney's fees.
JODIE TWEED may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5858.
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