By Fredric Heidemann
Attorney, Thrun Law Firm, P.C.

With the upcoming November general election, school officials should remember their responsibilities under the Michigan Campaign Finance Act (CFA).

Section 57 of the CFA prohibits a public body, including a school, from using its public resources for advocacy. A school may, however, distribute factual information concerning its ballot propositions. “Advocacy” includes words expressly advocating for the support or defeat of a candidate or ballot proposition, like “vote yes,” “support,” and “oppose,” and can also include opinions and subjective statements. School-produced ballot information should, therefore, avoid statements such as: “This bond issue is necessary to repair the middle school roof,” or “The approval of this millage will ensure our students receive a 21st century education.”

A “public resource” is also broadly construed, encompassing not only school funds but also school computer systems and school employees. If a school employee (including an administrator) would like to advocate for a school ballot proposition, he or she should do so only on personal time using personal resources (e.g., personal computer/email account).

For the November 2018 election, school informational materials related to a ballot proposal disseminated after Thursday, September 6, 2018, (i.e., within 60 days of the election) must include an “identification statement” that identifies who is paying for the material or communication. For most school-produced informational materials, including mailings, brochures, pamphlets, posters, emails, and similar printed items, the identification statement must include the school’s name and address. For example: “Paid for by ABC Schools, 100 School Avenue, Anywhere, Michigan 50001.” The identification statement needs to appear in a place and in a print that is clearly visible and readable. Small items, such as buttons, do not require an identification statement if the size of the item would make the placement of an identification statement unreasonable.

Non-printable materials also must include an identification statement. The statement for prerecorded telephone messages and robocalls must include the school’s name, address, and telephone number. Paid advertisements for radio or television must include a statement identifying the person paying for the advertisement by name and address, such as: “This advertisement was paid for by ABC Schools, 100 School Avenue, Anywhere, Michigan 50001.”

The CFA does not exempt electronic communications from the identification statement requirement. We therefore recommend including an identification statement on all electronic communications, including emails, materials posted on the school’s website, Facebook posts, Twitter “tweets,” and other social media communications.

The Secretary of State closely scrutinizes CFA compliance, and violations can result in stiff penalties. If you have specific questions regarding the CFA’s requirements, you should contact your legal counsel.

 

Fredric Heidemann is an attorney with Thrun Law Firm, P.C., Contact him at fheidemann@thrunlaw.comor (517) 374-4535,