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A Bit More on the Obama "Truth Squad" in Missouri:

(1) Commenter John_R points to a statement from one of the prosecutors mentioned in the news story, who says that "As a citizen, I believe that elections should be about issues. I also have enormous respect for our First Amendment and freedom of speech. My sole purpose in participating in this initiative is about getting truthful information to the voters. This has never been or never will be about prosecuting people."

(2) The question, is what the source is for the television station's saying that the prosecutors and sheriffs "also say they plan to respond immediately to any ads and statements that might violate Missouri ethics laws." Recall that, as I mentioned in my post, this was the narrator's statement, rather than something come out of the mouth of a prosecutor or a sheriff. Did the station misunderstand what was going on? Or did at least some sheriffs or prosecutors in fact say that they plan to focus on allegedly illegal ads, presumably by using their law enforcement authority? (If so, did they say it themselves, or were they responding to a TV station question, and what exactly did they say?)

(3) I should note that if the prosecutors or sheriffs did threaten enforcement of Missouri ethics laws — which I take it refers to election laws — here, it appears that Missouri election law generally doesn't ban false statements in campaigns, and though it bars false designations of who sponsored an ad, it apparently applies only to state and local campaigns, not federal ones. (Thanks to Rob Wechsler for pointing this out.) If that's right, then even if the prosecutors or sheriffs made general statements of the "we will evenhandedly enforce election laws against people making false statements of sponsorship" variety, they would be misstating their power on this subject. But again that all depends on what the sheriffs or prosecutors (or some subset of them) actually said on the subject.

(4) Some commenters suggested that the prosecutors and sheriffs are still at fault for implicitly threatening prosecution. The difficulty is again that it's not clear just what the prosecutors and sheriffs said to the TV station. The report does, as I said, suggest the risk of such prosecution, but that's the work product of the station, not the Truth Squad. It's not clear what, if any, the officials' role was in framing the report.

(5) Is it inherently threatening, though, to have law enforcement officials on such campaign organizations, especially ones that take a hard-hitting rhetorical tone? I don't think so, at least at this point in our political history. (Things might be different if state and local prosecutions of critics of political candidates were more common than they are.) And there's a legitimate reason to include prosecutors and sheriffs on such organizations, because in many places they are pretty well-known and trusted politicians, precisely the sorts of politicians that can lend their credibility to rebutting campaign allegations.

And, as the STLtoday Political Fix blog points out, the McCain Truth Squads also involve at least some law enforcement officials. A quick search uncovered the South Carolina Attorney General, and the Political Fix blog post reports that "a McCain Truth Squad in New Hampshire, formed last January, that included several public officials with prosecutorial powers, including the state attorney general."

In any case, I'd love to hear more factual information about what exactly was said, and by whom.

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