Rep. Steve Driehaus is fighting the perception that he can’t win reelection in Ohio’s first congressional district after the national Democratic Party withdrew funding from his race with Republican Steve Chabot.
But in addition to his spat with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Driehaus is also entangled in a bitter dispute with national pro-life groups, who are attacking him for voting in favor of President Obama’s health care bill, saying it provides for federal funding of abortion.
Driehaus filed a complaint against the Susan B. Anthony List on Oct. 4 with the Ohio Elections Commission, protesting a billboard that the group planned to put up in Cincinnati.
The billboards said, “SHAME ON STEVE DRIEHAUS!” in large letters. Below that, in smaller letters, the billboard said, “Driehaus voted FOR taxpayer-funded abortion.”
The billboards were never posted. Driehaus threatened legal action against Lamar Advertising Company, saying in an Oct. 4 letter that he would add them to his complaint if they did not stand down.
On Thursday, the commission granted a hearing for the case, which is supposed to take place within 10 days. So the issue of whether the billboards can go up should be decided before the Nov. 2 election.
Douglas Johnson, with the National Right to Life, said Driehaus should let the debate over whether the Obama health law funds abortion play out in public.
“I think that Congressman Driehaus is acting like a wimp – trying to put [SBA List president] Marjorie Dannenfelser in jail for disagreeing with him,” Johnson said.
Ohio law does provide for jail time — no more than six months — if the election commission finds for a plaintiff and refers the complaint to a prosecutor.
“The pusillanimity and arrogance of the incumbent is exceeded only by the stupidity of the statute he has invoked, which establishes an incumbent-protection mechanism that is grossly offensive to the First Amendment,” Johnson said.
The SBA List sent out a fundraising e-mail Friday to supporters, also raising the prospect of its president being imprisoned.
“There will be a full-blown hearing of the Ohio Election Commission where they could fine us thousands of dollars and even send Marjorie to jail for up to six months,” said Emily Buchanan, the group’s executive director.
Driehaus, reached on his cell phone Friday, said that his complaint before the commission was “a rather routine thing.”
“This is pretty simple. What they’re saying is untrue. When there are things that are said that are untrue in elections in the state of Ohio, you take them to the Ohio elections commission. That’s all we’ve done,” Driehaus said.
Driehaus said there are “penalties for engaging in what you know to be untrue activity and saying, making false comments that you know to be untrue.”
But Johnson has filed a 23-page affadavit detailing their case for how the Obama health law has and will provide federal funding of abortion.
“The enacted bill contained multiple provisions that do in fact authorize (i.e., create legal authority for) taxpayer funding of abortion, and that predictably will result in such funding in the future,” Johnson wrote.
The broader implication of the dispute is that whatever the Ohio Elections Commission decides, it will be rendering an official opinion on the bitter dispute over whether Obamacare does in fact authorize federal funding of abortions.