With $2 Billion at Stake, $100 Fines Won't Deter Violations of State Law

The "News" section of the Godfrey-Lee Public Schools website features a link to Superintendent David Britten’s personal blog, “Superintendent's Notes," which includes an article, "Proposal 1 Straight Talk."

The article circles back to comments from another individual who holds a position of public trust in the district, reporting that “Eric Mockerman, president of the Godfrey-Lee school board, said he thinks a 1-cent sales tax increase is minimal amount to pay for what residents end up getting out of a yes vote for their roads, schools and cities.” Read some more on the same page and you'll find that the "Godfrey-Lee Board of Education Supports Proposal 1."

ForTheRecord says: Michigan law prohibits governmental entities like school districts from using taxpayer resources to “expressly advocate” for a yes or no vote on a ballot measure. This has been determined to apply when a government website uses the device of linking to another website that is engaging in express advocacy.

Also, the state Elections Bureau has held that using the term “yes” in communications like this is a potential violation of these express advocacy rules. Other officials questioned about potential violations have implicitly acknowldedged this by referring to “yes” as the “magic word” which has to be avoided.

But the Godfrey-Lee example highlights a bigger problem with the current rules against taxpayer-funded electioneering. If voters approve Proposal 1 on May 5 it means an additional $2 billion in state government revenue, including $300 million for school districts. Yet past experience suggests that the most Godfrey-Lee risks for violating these rules is a $100 fine. With $2 billion at stake, a $100 fine isn't much of a deterrent to violating the community’s trust by campaigning with taxpayer resources.