News Story

State Has Weak History of Punishing School Campaign Finance Law Violators

Past school districts that broke the law received only $100 fine

To promote a $100 million bond proposal, the Secretary of State found that Traverse City Area Public Schools violated state campaign finance law by urging voters to support it.

However, if the Secretary of State stays true to its history of enforcement, it's likely the district will receive a slap on the wrist.

In 2011, Michigan Capitol Confidential looked at the Secretary of State's enforcement of school districts it found to have violated the campaign finance law from 2006 to 2010. The state fined two districts that broke the law $100 each.

The department and district have to reach a resolution within 90 days from Thursday or the case will be forwarded to the Attorney General's office, said Fred Woodhams, spokesman for the Secretary of State office. The Secretary of State has also asked the Traverse City school district to provide more information by May 6.

"The penalty could range from simply agreeing to not commit the violation again to fines,” Woodhams said. "We are cognizant that taxpayer funds have already been misused so requiring a public body funded by taxpayers to pay a fine in addition is something that requires careful deliberation on a case-by-case basis."

The department has asked the school district to provide additional information by May 6. The department and district will have to reach a resolution within 90 days from Thursday or it will be forwarded to the Attorney General’s Office.

Leon Drolet, chairman of the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance, said the state has to start fining individuals so it doesn't cost taxpayers double.

Drolet said the $100 fine sends the wrong message. The law states that the fine can be up to $1,000 for an individual and up to $20,000 for a school district.

"When the fine is that low, you are encouraging people to break the law," Drolet said. "That is a deliberate signal to not take the law seriously."

Jason Gillman, a tea party activist, filed the complaint with the state over a brochure the school district distributed.

The brochure read: "Traverse City Area Public Schools is asking voters to support the continuation of TCAPS' long-term capital infrastructure improvement plan by authoring a bond proposal on November 6, 2012."

The bond was defeated by voters.

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.