Lying in Political Campaigns is Legal, but It Shows Lapses in Integrit




In 1992, I was editor of The Fort McClellan News in Anniston. I met an Army reservist from Wisconsin who told me an amazing story. He said he was an investigator in the Jeffrey Dahmer case in 1991. This was a chilling, horrible case of a serial killer called the Milwaukee Cannibal. I wanted to pen a feature about the soldier who helped bring Dahmer to justice.

The soldier knew a multitude of facts and insights. Dahmer, age 34 when arrested, killed and dismembered 17 men and boys over a 13-year period. Most of these murders involved cannibalism, necrophilia and preserving body parts, such as parts of the skeleton. He received 16 life terms and was beaten to death in jail in 1994. Although the MP sergeant had quite a grasp of details, I called the Milwaukee police to verify his civilian employment. 

He was not listed, so I cancelled the article that I was to call “Meet the Army MP who helped solve the Dahmer case.” But it was true Dahmer took his basic training at Fort McClellan before heading to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, to learn Army medicine. Still, training a soldier who became a mass murderer is not something coveted by a fort.

The case of the lying soldier shows that people in many, if not all, venues and jobs lie to different levels. Politicians run the gamut from normally honest to invariably a liar. I will discuss the prevarications and flat-out lies of House candidate George Santos below. First, we must find out how the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on the issue of politicians’ lying.

In 2016, the court ruled in Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus that a politician’s right to lie during a campaign is protected under the free speech provision of the First Amendment. “The pro-life group tried to erect billboards during a campaign accusing incumbent Driehaus (D-Ohio) of supporting ‘taxpayer-funded abortion’ because he voted in favor of the Affordable Care Act,” as explained by George Thomas Jr. at — a publication for lawyers.

Likely the No. 1 reason why people lie is “protection for others.” In politics, this means that a liar fears he or she may hurt someone’s feelings (such as by telling a candidate they are sinking in the polls), or they feel being truthful will be detrimental (for a politician it may discourage them from “closing” their campaign on a high note). Yet protecting others from the truth could end up indicating to a politician that he or she is weak.

In “protection of oneself,” another approach, a candidate might say she has a college degree, although she does not. They think voters like you better with an undergraduate degree, at least, already completed. Or he might anticipate many people voting against him because he has a job at Target, instead of at Tulane. But both jobs are respectable.

“I realized he (George Santos) is a 21st-century state-of-the-art fraudster — a stone-cold liar who effectively committed election fraud, a calculating political actor who took advantage of voters’ trust,” said Peggy Noonan in The Wall Street Journal. Santos won a congressional seat in New York by lying about his education, work and even his mother’s death (it was not 9/11-related as his biography asserted).

On Fox News, former GOP Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard embarrassed Santos when he attempted to say his explanations for lying are “… way above the American people’s head.” Gabbard replied: “Wow. You’re saying this discussion will go way above the heads of Americans, basically insulting their intelligence.” I suspect Santos is his own counsel — he needs a spokesman to tell him when to shut up. Now is the time for remorse.

Santos claimed to have graduated from Baruch College and New York University, which have no records of him. He also said he worked for Goldman Sachs and Citigroup; neither has records of his employment. He lied about having a charity called Friends of Pets United that rescued thousands of dogs and cats. A charity of that name is nowhere in IRS tax records. He is now under investigation for financial fraud. No wonder!

There is no legal recourse to trim the bushes of campaign lies, except by shaming those who regularly practice dishonesty. We should locate that Army reservist from Fort McClellan, circa 1992. He lied about being an investigator of Dahmer. But he was truthful in knowing Dahmer got his Army basic training right here in Alabama — at Fort McClellan.

Greg Markley moved to Lee County in 1996. He has a master’s in education from AUM anda master’s in historyfrom Auburn University. He taught politics as an adjunct in Georgia and Alabama. An award-winning writer in the Army and civilian life, he has contributed to The Observer since 2011. He writes on politics, education and books.


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