Governor Snyder is currently considering whether to sign SB 571, which would, in part, prohibit local governments from engaging in electioneering prior to a tax issue appearing on the ballot. While many municipalities have come out against this bill, the Kent County Taxpayers Alliance is supporting it because we have seen an increasing number of situations where local governments are flouting the state’s campaign finance laws.
One recent and glaring example is in August of 2014, when the City of Grand Rapids and the Grand Rapids Public Schools published, in their newsletter sent to every household in the city, an “editorial” from Mayor Heartwell expressly advocating a yes vote on Proposal 1 from that year. The newsletter, available here, attempts to get around the campaign finance law by claiming that its express advocacy is merely an opinion and not a piece of campaign literature. The City of Grand Rapids has taken the position that it may engage in any electioneering at all as along as it is part of the city’s regular newsletter. The newsletter, paid for with city funds, and excerpted at right, clearly uses language prohibited by the campaign finance act when it says “We urge you to vote YES on Proposal 1 August 5!”
SB 571 is badly needed to counter this behavior. This is but one example of local governments getting more and more bold with spending significant sums on advertisements just around election time. These thinly veiled election ads aren’t simply about informing voters or publishing non-biased information on an upcoming tax issue; they are campaign ads, plain and simple.
Another example is the below television ad published by the Grand Rapids Public Schools just before a bond election last year.
Local governments should be prohibited from engaging in this type of election activity. Supporters of local tax issues should be required to create a campaign committee and file campaign finance reports, just like everyone else. SB 571 would address this issue and level the playing field.