Outgoing Congressman sues advocacy group for running false ads he claims cost him re-election

Amanda Carey Contributor
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Outgoing Democratic Congressman Steven Driehaus is suing a group that campaigned against him during his bid for re-election.

The suit accuses the Susan B. Anthony List (SBA) — a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization that promotes pro-life candidates — of running false ads against him and “depriving a person of his livelihood.”

On Monday, the SBA responded to the allegations.

“Counter to his claims, the voters of Ohio’s First District are the ones that cost Steve Driehaus his livelihood,” said SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser in a statement. “Congressman Steven Driehaus’ problem is not that the Susan B. Anthony List allegedly lied about his vote for taxpayer-funded abortion in the health care bill. It’s that he caved when it counted, took the wrong vote, and paid the price on Election Day.”

On November 2, Driehaus lost his reelection bid to Republican challenger Steve Chabot. On October 6, Driehaus had filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission (OEC) – a very “common practice” according to the congressman – alleging the SBA ran false ads that accused him of voting for taxpayer-funded abortions.

The OEC voted to hold a full hearing on the complaint and decide if the SBA violated the law. The SBA, in response, filed a federal lawsuit to request a temporary restraining order against discovery proceedings in the hearing. The SBA’s objective was to challenge the constitutionality of an earlier OEC decision that banned the group from putting up billboards in Driehaus’ district saying the congressman voted for an expansion of abortion funding.

That is when Driehaus filed his counter federal lawsuit – as a reaction to the SBA.

When contacted by The Daily Caller, Driehaus said that the basis for his suit is that he believes organizations like the SBA should be held accountable when they mislead voters.

“They were spreading false information with the intent purpose of not only disparaging me personally, but trying to get me to lose my election,” said Driehaus in an interview with TheDC. “They clearly attempted to mislead my voters, and they should be held accountable.”

Driehaus, who describes himself as a pro-life Democrat, said that accusations that the healthcare bill funds abortion are “patently false.”

“The fact is there is no federal funding of abortion. It’s not that we have a difference in opinion, it’s a difference of fact,” he said.

The question of whether the health care reform bill that President Obama signed into law earlier this year funds abortions was a major source of contention surrounding the bill leading up to the vote for its passage.

In a detailed affidavit for the OEC, Douglas Johnson, federal legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee, outlined why the case could be made that the reform bill does indeed fund abortion. According to Johnson’s testimony, each version of the health care bill that was debated included new pathways for federal funding outside the regular Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) appropriations.

That means, according to Johnson, that those funding loopholes did not violate the Hyde Amendment — a provision that bans all federal funding for abortion except in the case of rape, incest, or health risks to the mother. Under that Amendment, federal funding is banned only when it goes through DHHS.

Though Driehaus did vote for a version of the bill in the House that included the Stupak-Pitts Amendment – a provision that banned all forms of abortion funding – that Amendment did not make it into the final bill that became law.

Johnson also pointed out that a large part of Driehaus’ defense is the executive order that was signed by President Obama on March 24 to prevent abortion funding. However, wrote Johnson, that order was not an act of Congress and thus Driehaus cannot claim he “voted against” abortion funding

Despite what seems like a clear-cut debate, the abortion funding component of the health care bill still remains under dispute. In fact, in a recent court ruling, a federal judge declared the reform bill did not include abortion funding.

“[The bill] contains strict safeguards at multiple levels to prevent federal funds from being used to pay for abortion services beyond those in cases of rape or incest or where the life of the woman would be endangered,” wrote Judge Norman Moon.

In an interview with TheDC, Driehaus did not make it entirely clear how the bill restricts abortion funding (outside of Obama’s executive order), and instead, repeatedly made the point that organizations that influence elections should be held accountable. When asked about the other pro-life Democrats that voted for the bill, Driehaus said, “They are all very interested in what I am doing. But the Susan B. Anthony List didn’t sue them.”

“Despite his best efforts to criminalize the SBA List’s free speech, Driehaus’ constituents heard the truth about his pro-abortion vote and have already determined whose description of that vote is true,” added Dannenfelser in her statement.

So what’s next for Driehaus after he vacates his office at the end of the lame duck session? “I don’t know,” he told TheDC. “I’m talking to quite a few folks and leaving the door open to possibly running again.”