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Ethics Commission Faces Free-Speech Lawsuit

HARRISBURG, Pa. (CN) - The Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission unconstitutionally investigated a man after he told the media that he intended to file a complaint asking the commission to look into the use of taxpayer money for political purposes, Gene Stilp says in Federal Court.

Stilp issued a press release announcing his plan to ask the commission to investigate whether state House Majority Leader William DeWeese and other representatives used $290,000 in taxpayer money for political purposes in 2007.

A day later, the commission told Stilp that it had dismissed his complaint for lack of evidence. But two months later, Stilp says the commission decided to investigate him for allegedly violating the Public Official and Employee Ethics Act by disclosing a pending investigation to the press. It threatened to prosecute him criminally and civilly, Stilp claims.

He says the investigation and threats constituted prior restraint on his speech, in violation of the First Amendment. He says the state law he purportedly violated by talking to the press is unconstitutional and asks the court to strike it down.

His attorney is Aaron Martin with Hoppe & Martin LLP.

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