Legal Experts Say Saline Schools Broke Campaign Finance Law
Saline High School posted a video on its website of a school official asking voters to support an upcoming school bond. Two election law experts say this is a violation of the state’s campaign finance law.
In the two-minute video, Doug Bacon, the school district’s director of facilities, expresses his opinion about the district’s funding needs and then ends with the following: “I’d like to ask for your support for our upcoming bond extension on Feb. 22.”
When contacted by Michigan Capitol Confidential, Saline Area Schools’ superintendent Scot Graden said the video was taken down and would be reposted with the ending containing the comments removed.
State law doesn’t allow schools to use public resources to “express advocacy” in elections. Saline has a $22 million school bond extension up for a vote on the Feb. 22 ballot.
“I know that ‘express advocacy’ has been clearly defined as the use of the word ‘yes’ by school staff other than the Superintendent,” Graden wrote in an e-mail. “I could (although I have not) advocated and used the term ‘yes.’ With that said, I don't want to create any confusion related to the issue. I have had the video removed and will have the ending removed before reposting the clip.”
But Eric Doster, general counsel for the state Republican Party, and Bob LaBrant, general counsel for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, both agreed Bacon’s statements crossed the legal line.
“Express advocacy goes far beyond just the use of the term ‘yes’ or ‘no,’” LaBrant said. “‘Support’ seems to be the functional equivalent of the word ‘yes.’ That definitely would be advocacy.”
Doster said there was no question that this is a violation of the campaign finance act.
“‘I want your support’?” Doster said. “Yeah. That’s express advocacy. Absolutely. No question.”