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‘Probable cause’ in elections complaints

Campaigns for Ohio’s 6th District candidates under review

September 28, 2012
From staff reports , The Marietta Times

The Ohio Elections Commission will consider complaints against the campaigns of Congressman Bill Johnson and his challenger, former Congressman Charlie Wilson, next week.

A committee voted Wednesday that there was probable cause to refer a portion of a complaint over a press release from Johnson's campaign to the full commission. The release was issued in response to a committee's finding of probable cause last week over statements made in a YouTube video posted by Wilson's campaign.

A finding of probable cause means there is a probability the statement in question is false and the campaign is responsible for it, so consideration by the full commission is warranted, said Philip Richter, executive director of the commission.

"It is not a finding of violation at this point," he said.

The first complaint was filed Sept. 17 by Cambridge resident Richie Oster against Wilson, a Democrat, and the group Friends of Charlie Wilson. It claims an online video paid for by the Friends group states Johnson, a Republican, "voted to kill Medicare," something the complaint says never happened.

Subsequent releases from Wilson's campaign have referred to Johnson voting "to kill the Medicare system, that we know" by supporting vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan's budget proposal.

A committee on Sept. 20 found probable cause to refer the matter to the rest of the full elections commission. Johnson's campaign issued a press release that day announcing the decision.

On Monday, Friends of Charlie Wilson campaign manager J.R. Starrett filed a complaint claiming four false statements were made in the release.

The committee found probable cause on one of the items, which said the release claimed multiple times that "false statements" were made, even though there was only a single false statement in question, Richter said.

Among the statements they did not refer was one in which Johnson's release states a violation would be a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail. Starrett's complaint notes the commission is not an enforcement entity and any potential criminal case would have to be taken up by a prosecutor and go before a judge or jury before a penalty would be meted out.

The commission was already scheduled to consider the original complaint on Oct. 4. Richter scheduled the new complaint for consideration that day as well.



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