|Passed by the House February 23, 2009|
Speaker of the House of Representatives
Passed by the Senate April 17, 2009
President of the Senate
I, Barbara Baker, Chief Clerk of the House of Representatives of the State of Washington, do hereby certify that the attached is SUBSTITUTE HOUSE BILL 1286 as passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate on the dates hereon set forth.
Governor of the State of Washington
Secretary of State
State of Washington
|State of Washington||61st Legislature||2009 Regular Session|
READ FIRST TIME 01/30/09.
AN ACT Relating to false and defamatory statements about candidates for public office; amending RCW 42.17.530 and 29A.32.090; and creating a new section.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF WASHINGTON:
NEW SECTION. Sec. 1 (1) The concurring opinion of the Washington
state supreme court in Rickert v. State, Public Disclosure Commission,
161 Wn.2d 843, 168 P. 3d 826 (2007) found the statute that prohibits
persons from sponsoring, with actual malice, political advertising and
electioneering communications about a candidate containing false
statements of material fact to be invalid under the First Amendment to
the United States Constitution because it posed no requirement that the
prohibited statements be defamatory.
(2) It is the intent of the legislature to amend chapter 42.17 RCW to find that a violation of state law occurs if a person sponsors false statements about candidates in political advertising and electioneering communications when the statements are made with actual malice and are defamatory.
(3) The legislature finds that in such circumstances damages are presumed and do not need to be established when such statements are made with actual malice in political advertising and electioneering communications and constitute libel or defamation per se. The legislature finds that incumbents, challengers, voters, and the political process will benefit from vigorous political debate that is not made with actual malice and is not defamatory.
(4) The legislature finds that when such defamatory statements contain a false statement of material fact about a candidate for public office they expose the candidate to contempt, ridicule, or reproach and can deprive the candidate of the benefit of public confidence, or prejudice him or her in his or her profession, trade, or vocation. The legislature finds that when such statements falsely represent that a candidate is the incumbent for the office sought when in fact the candidate is not the incumbent they deprive the actual incumbent and the candidates of the benefit of public confidence and injure the actual incumbent in the ability to effectively serve as an elected official. The legislature further finds that defamatory statements made by an incumbent regarding the incumbent's challenger may deter individuals from seeking public office and harm the democratic process. Further, the legislature finds that when such statements make, either directly or indirectly, a false claim stating or implying the support or endorsement of any person or organization when in fact the candidate does not have such support or endorsement, they deprive the person or organization of the benefit of public confidence and/or will expose the person or organization to contempt, ridicule, or reproach, or injure the person or organization in their business or occupation.
(5) The legislature finds that defamatory statements, made with actual malice, damage the integrity of elections by distorting the electoral process. Democracy is premised on an informed electorate. To the extent such defamatory statements misinform the voters, they interfere with the process upon which democracy is based. Such defamatory statements also lower the quality of campaign discourse and debate, and lead or add to voter alienation by fostering voter cynicism and distrust of the political process.
Sec. 2 RCW 42.17.530 and 2005 c 445 s 10 are each amended to read
(1) It is a violation of this chapter for a person to sponsor with actual malice a statement constituting libel or defamation per se under the following circumstances:
(a) Political advertising or an electioneering communication that contains a false statement of material fact about a candidate for public office((
. However, this subsection (1)(a) does not apply to
statements made by a candidate or the candidate's agent about the
candidate himself or herself));
(b) Political advertising or an electioneering communication that falsely represents that a candidate is the incumbent for the office sought when in fact the candidate is not the incumbent;
(c) Political advertising or an electioneering communication that makes either directly or indirectly, a false claim stating or implying the support or endorsement of any person or organization when in fact the candidate does not have such support or endorsement.
(2) For the purposes of this section, "libel or defamation per se" means statements that tend (a) to expose a living person to hatred, contempt, ridicule, or obloquy, or to deprive him or her of the benefit of public confidence or social intercourse, or to injure him or her in his or her business or occupation, or (b) to injure any person, corporation, or association in his, her, or its business or occupation.
(3) It is not a violation of this section for a candidate or his or her agent to make statements described in subsection (1)(a) or (b) of this section about the candidate himself or herself because a person cannot defame himself or herself. It is not a violation of this section for a person or organization referenced in subsection (1)(c) of this section to make a statement about that person or organization because such persons and organizations cannot defame themselves.
(4) Any violation of this section shall be proven by clear and convincing evidence. If a violation is proven, damages are presumed and do not need to be proven.
Sec. 3 RCW 29A.32.090 and 2003 c 111 s 809 are each amended to
read as follows:
(1) If in the opinion of the secretary of state any argument or statement offered for inclusion in the voters' pamphlet in support of or opposition to a measure or candidate contains obscene matter or matter that is otherwise prohibited by law from distribution through the mail, the secretary may petition the superior court of Thurston County for a judicial determination that the argument or statement may be rejected for publication or edited to delete the matter. The court shall not enter such an order unless it concludes that the matter is obscene or otherwise prohibited for distribution through the mail.
(2) A candidate's statement submitted for inclusion in the voters' pamphlet shall not contain false or misleading statements about the candidate's opponent. A false or misleading statement shall be considered "libel or defamation per se" if the statement tends to expose the candidate to hatred, contempt, ridicule, or obloquy, or to deprive him or her of the benefit of public confidence or social intercourse, or to injure him or her in his or her business or occupation. If a candidate believes his or her opponent has libeled or defamed him or her, the candidate may commence an action under subsection (3) of this section.
(3)(a) A person who believes that he or she may be defamed by an argument or statement offered for inclusion in the voters' pamphlet in support of or opposition to a measure or candidate may petition the superior court of Thurston County for a judicial determination that the argument or statement may be rejected for publication or edited to delete the defamatory statement.
(b) The court shall not enter such an order unless it concludes that the statement is untrue and that the petitioner has a very substantial likelihood of prevailing in a defamation action.
(c) An action under this subsection ((
(2))) (3) must be filed and
served no later than the tenth day after the deadline for the
submission of the argument or statement to the secretary of state.
(d) If the secretary of state notifies a person named or identified in an argument or statement of the contents of the argument or statement within three days after the deadline for submission to the secretary, then neither the state nor the secretary is liable for damages resulting from publication of the argument or statement unless the secretary publishes the argument or statement in violation of an order entered under this section. Nothing in this section creates a duty on the part of the secretary of state to identify, locate, or notify the person.
(3))) (4) Parties to a dispute under this section may agree to
resolve the dispute by rephrasing the argument or statement, even if
the deadline for submission to the secretary has elapsed, unless the
secretary determines that the process of publication is too far
advanced to permit the change. The secretary shall promptly provide
any such revision to any committee entitled to submit a rebuttal
argument. If that committee has not yet submitted its rebuttal, its
deadline to submit a rebuttal is extended by five days. If it has
submitted a rebuttal, it may revise it to address the change within
five days of the filing of the revised argument with the secretary.
(4))) (5) In an action under this section the committee or
candidate must be named as a defendant, and may be served with process
by certified mail directed to the address contained in the secretary's
records for that party. The secretary of state shall be a nominal
party to an action brought under subsection (( (2))) (3) of this
section, solely for the purpose of determining the content of the
voters' pamphlet. The superior court shall give such an action
priority on its calendar.