Facing an Ohio Elections Commission hearing on an accusation of making a false statement, Democrat Charlie Wilson’s campaign filed a complaint against U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson and his campaign, contending they made false statements.
A three-member panel of the Ohio Elections Commission will meet Wednesday in Columbus to determine if there is probable cause that Johnson, of Marietta, R-6th, and his campaign made false accusations.
Wilson, of St. Clairsville, who served in the U.S. House for four years before losing to Johnson in 2010, is attempting to regain his seat in the 6th Congressional District in the Nov. 6 general election. The 18-county district includes all of Columbiana County and the southern portion of Mahoning County.
A four-member Ohio Elections Commission panel unanimously voted Thursday that there was probable cause that Wilson’s campaign falsely stated that Johnson “voted to kill Medicare.” That statement was called the “Lie of the Year,” by Politifact, a newspaper political fact-checking program.
The full commission is scheduled to meet Oct. 4 for a final hearing, said Phil Ritcher, its executive director.
It was a press release from Johnson’s camp after last week’s probable-cause hearing that led to the complaint from Wilson’s campaign.
“It’s a shame that Congressman Johnson is attempting to distract voters from the truth; he voted to kill the Medicare system; that we know,” said J.R. Starrett, Wilson’s campaign manager.
But Mark Weaver, Johnson’s campaign spokesman and an attorney, said the Wilson complaint has no legal merit and is filled with errors.
The complaint, filed by Starrett, contends a Johnson campaign statement in a press release after last week’s hearing — “If the full panel finds a false statement, the violation is a first- degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months in jail” — is false.
If the commission finds the ad to be false, it can recommend to a county prosecutor only that a charge be filed against Wilson and his campaign, Starrett said.
Ritcher agreed that the commission doesn’t have that authority.
But Weaver said the Johnson campaign statement never mentions that the commission would prosecute.
“Those are two true statements put together,” he said.
Weaver also said the other claims made by Wilson’s campaign are inaccurate.