Former U.S. Rep. Steve Driehaus won two court battles Monday against an anti-abortion group that targeted him during his unsuccessful re-election campaign last year.
His first victory came when a federal judge tossed out a lawsuit against Driehaus that had challenged the way Ohio handles disputes over election advertising.
His second came when the same judge ruled that the anti-abortion group, the Susan B. Anthony List, may have misled voters when it accused Driehaus of supporting taxpayer-funded abortions.
Both decisions are tied to a dispute between Driehaus and the Susan B. Anthony List over a billboard campaign the group planned to launch last year criticizing Driehaus' vote on the health-care reform law.
Driehaus said the billboards made "false claims" under Ohio law and sought an order from the Ohio Elections Commission blocking the political ads. Members of the Susan B. Anthony list said Ohio's law is unconstitutional because it restricts their political speech.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Black rejected the group's claim, saying he has no jurisdiction because the billboards were never erected and the Ohio Election Commission never made a final ruling on whether they may have violated the law.
But the judge refused to throw out Driehaus' defamation lawsuit against the group, saying the Susan B. Anthony List made untrue statements when other ads it sponsored tied Driehaus' vote on health care reform to support for taxpayer-funded abortions.
"The express language of (the health care law) does not provide for taxpayer funded abortion," Black wrote. "That is a fact, and it is clear on its face."
The judge's decision does not end the case, but it allows Driehaus' suit against the group to move forward. Black was appointed to the federal bench by President Barack Obama.
Driehaus, who now is in the Peace Corps in Africa, said the ruling vindicates a position he took during the heat of his re-election campaign against eventual winner Steve Chabot.
"The Susan B. Anthony List was not being honest with voters," said Driehaus, who ran as an anti-abortion Democrat. "I have fought this and will continue to fight this. It is not OK to spend thousands of dollars lying about elected officials.
"What I care about is my reputation. When people claim I would give up my principles for politics, I am deeply offended by that."
A lawyer for the Susan B. Anthony List and the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes, which also sued Driehaus, said the groups will appeal Black's decision. Attorney Chris Finney criticized Black for refusing to intervene when the billboard dispute was happening last year and for now saying he has no jurisdiction to get involved.
"It's absurd," Finney said. "We have a federal court that basically said it's toothless. That's frightening."
He said the groups believe the Driehaus case spotlights a fundamental flaw in Ohio election law: It allows the Ohio Election Commission to block political speech based on the complaints of a candidate.
Although the commission never made a final ruling, it did find probable cause that the billboards would have been misleading.
"An unelected commission should not have the ability to decide what is true and false speech, nor tell us what speech we can and cannot hear," said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List.
The group has said the billboards would have stated: "Shame on Steve Driehaus! Driehaus voted FOR taxpayer-funded abortion."
The health-care law allows people receiving federal subsidies to sign up for health plans that cover abortion, but it requires people to pay for that option with their own money.
The law was accompanied by an executive order from Obama reaffirming a long-standing federal ban on using tax dollars for abortion.
Driehaus said those restrictions made the Susan B. Anthony List's claims false. The judge reached the same conclusion in his ruling Monday.
Many Republicans and other critics of the law, however, have said sending any federal money to an insurance carrier that allows abortion - despite the restrictions - constitutes taxpayer-funding of abortions.
The debate was a big part of the campaign in 2010, but Driehaus said he doesn't know whether it cost him votes.
"I plan to pursue it because I think the truth matters," Driehaus said.