News Story

Kent ISD Resources Used to Promote a 'Reception' for Democrat Congressional Candidate

Violation of campaign finance law may have been committed, according to one analyst

A one-man "forum" to debate the issues after his opponent backed out?

Or a "rally" for a Michigan Education Association-backed candidate put on by the MEA?

That's the legal question after the Kent County Intermediate School District sent out a flier on its school e-mail advertising the "MEA Grassroots -  Patrick Miles Reception" to take place on October 19.

Campaign finance law prohibits public bodies from using e-mails to promote political events. Miles has been endorsed by the local teachers' union in his race against Republican Justin Amash for the U.S. 3rd Congressional district seat being vacated by Republican Vern Ehlers.

The flier offers little information about the event except the candidate's name, the "MEA - Grassroots" presenter and a Kent County ISD e-mail address for which to RSVP. Ron Koehler, assistant superintendent for Kent ISD, said the district invited both candidates to the forum but Amash declined.

He said it was put on as an educational forum on Congressional educational issues.

"It's not a fundraiser," Koehler said. "We wish both candidates were there."

The Kent County Education Association's blog reported the event as a "rally" and posted that "members are invited to participate and listen and meet Pat Miles, our endorsed 3rd district candidate."

Amash's campaign said in an e-mail that Amash was invited to a Kent ISD forum on Oct. 11. Amash couldn't make that date, but the GOP Representative was asked for an alternative date and didn't suggest any.

One legal expert said the school district appears to have violated the law, which is a misdemeanor and the district could face a $20,000 fine.

"It seems quite the stretch," said Patrick Wright, senior legal analyst for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. "It appears to be illegal."

Wright said the exception to the law reads: "The production or dissemination of debates, interviews, commentary, or information by a broadcasting station, newspaper, magazine, or other periodical or publication in the regular course of broadcasting or publication."

Wright said the event doesn't appear to fit that exemption.

In February, reported that the home page of the Northville Public Schools was used to announce the candidacy of a board member who was running as a Democrat to become the next state representative from the area. 

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.