Vote Watch: Lying Not Allowed In Utah Campaign Ads, But Not Punished

Oct 29, 2020, 6:57 PM | Updated: Oct 30, 2020, 8:35 am

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Attack ads are out in full swing in the final days of the 2020 campaign.

Local Utah legislative races also seem to be caught up in negative ads, both from Utah Democrats and Utah Republicans.

Earlier in October, Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, found mailers had been sent to voters in his district that read “Steve Eliason’s caucus voted to RAISE OUR TAXES.” The flyer referenced Senate bill 2001, a bill that increased sales tax on multiple things, including groceries. It was later overturned after significant public outcry.

Attack ad against Rep. Eliason, R-Sandy. (KSL-TV)

The mailer was sent out by the Utah Democratic Party rather than a specific candidate.

KSL Investigators checked voting records on S.B. 2001 and found Eliason voted against the bill.

Recent ads from the Utah GOP have been sent to homes in established Democratic districts with similar verbiage as the Eliason ad but targeting Democratic incumbents.

Attack ad against Rep. Carol Moss, D-Holladay. (KSL-TV)

On Twitter, Rep. Carol Moss, D-Holladay, claimed she was hit by this ad, which claimed she “did nothing to stop the food tax increase.” Reps. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, and Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, tweeted they’d been similarly targeted.

The ad was put out by the Utah Republican Party, not a specific candidate.

All three legislators voted against S.B. 2001.

Isn’t Lying In Campaign Ads Illegal?

Utah Elections Director Justin Lee said Utah does have a law against lying in political advertisements. “You can’t knowingly make a false statement while campaigning,” he said.

But Utah law does not offer any enforcement mechanism against false advertising in political campaigns.

“It’s a notoriously hard law to enforce, because you get into First Amendment free speech rights,” said Lee. “Defining what a lie is versus what an opinion is is also very difficult.”

KSL reached out to both the Utah Democratic Party and the Utah Republican Party for comment on the competing ads.

The Utah GOP did not have a comment.

Jeff Merchant, chairman of Utah Democratic Party, told KSL by phone that his organization stands by the ad sent out about Eliason. He claims the point they were trying to drive home to voters was Utah’s Republican lawmakers “sent out major legislation without listening to what people wanted,” and that a vote for any Republican candidate could be considered “supporting people who didn’t listen” to their voters.

Currently, if a politician or candidate wants to act against falsehoods in campaign materials, the only routes are to sue or discuss on social media and in the press.

Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at investigates@ksl.com or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you.

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Vote Watch: Lying Not Allowed In Utah Campaign Ads, But Not Punished