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Provo considers making election lies a crime

Woe unto the liar in a Provo municipal election for he or she could be thrust into jail.

The City Council is considering an ordinance that makes it a crime to circulate a false statement about a candidate or issue. The law attempts to forbid falsehoods broadcast on television and radio, uttered by paid telephonists and printed in newspapers, leaflets and bumper stickers.A person who makes untrue comments could be guilty of a class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.

A local free speech attorney and a Brigham Young University law professor say the proposed measure makes no sense and won't pass constitutional muster.

"You can't lie about your opponent?" Orem attorney Andrew W. McCullough asks in mock horror. "They are kidding."

The provision is part of a larger amendment to the city's campaign finance disclosure law.

Council members want political action committees to play by the same rules as candidates. The ordinance calls for PACs to file disclosure statements listing con-trib-u-tors' names with the city recorder. It also would require PACs that publish or broadcast advertisements to include the names of those who paid for them.

It defines a PAC as two or more people who cooperate to promote or defeat a candidate or issue.

The demand for a new law came in the wake of several anonymous newspaper ads that attacked Mayor Lewis Billings and Councilman Greg Hudnall before last November's election.

The council has reviewed several draft ordinances recently. The latest one attempts to criminalize false statements made by individuals, PACs and campaign committees. The council will consider the ordinance March 3.

Although initially gung-ho about making a law, Hudnall doesn't like the current version.