Issue Background

Campaign Finance Law Limitations

April: Consent order agreed to declaring this new section unenforceable.

This is a win for our democratic process and all voters and taxpayers across Michigan who have the right to receive factual information from their locally elected officials.  MASB and our coalition of school groups and local governments believed that voters deserved better than this law and we are pleased to see that acknowledged by the Attorney General and the Courts. This will allow you and your districts to share factual information on upcoming ballot initiatives without worrying about penalties from the state.

January:  MASB is disappointed that Gov. Snyder signed SB 571 into law on Wednesday establishing a gag provision on local officials and schools from communicating information about local ballot elections within 60 days of an election. This provision was added last minute to SB 571 just before the Legislature adjourned for the year.

‘Those entities with items on the March 8 ballot will be within that 60-day window starting Jan. 8. Voters need access to accurate information on how the money would be spent and what the consequences will be for area childrenincluding their ownif school districts win or lose those elections,’ said Don Wotruba, Executive Director. ‘School and local officials already are banned from advocating for a tax increase or bond renewal. They shouldn’t be banned from giving voters the facts.’

The Governor has urged the Legislature to revisit the issue to address the problems that have been raised by schools districts and local governments. MASB is ready to assist the Governor and the Legislature in fixing this ill-conceived provision that was added at the last minute to SB 571

Judge Signs Consent Agreement to end “Gag-Order” Lawsuit

On April 28, U.S. District Judge John Corbett O’Meara accepted an agreement between the Secretary of State’s office and local governments and school groups, declaring that the gag order provision in Public Act 269 is unenforceable. 

Previous restrictions on advocating still apply, but districts can continue to educate their parents and communities about ballot initiatives so voters can be fully informed and understand how a local ballot issue would affect them. 

2/5/16 --This afternoon, Judge John Corbett O'Meara issued an order granting a preliminary injunction on PA269. This means the law can't be enforced until further order of the court. In his decision Judge O'Meara stated, "Public officials deserve clarity on this issue so that they may serve the public in the normal course without fear of arbitrary sanction or prosecution."

This lifts the gag order that was currently affecting the more than 100 local districts and communities that have March elections.

Keep in mind, this returns us to previous law stating districts are limited to sharing factual information on ballot issues, not urging a yes or no vote.

1/15/16 This week, legislation to fix Senate Bill 571 was introduced in both the Senate and the House. As you know, this new law bans the use of public resources to communicate factual and unbiased information about local ballot initiatives for 60 days prior to an election. The 60-day gag order went into effect on Jan. 8 for more than 100 districts and local governments that have a March 8 ballot issue.

Sen. Dale Zorn (R-Ida) introduced SB 703, which would completely repeal the new language establishing the 60-day gag order. Rep. Andy Schor (D-Lansing) is expected to introduce an identical bill in the House on Wednesday. MASB and the other members of our coalition strongly support these two bills.

However, a third bill on this issue was also introduced this week. House Bill 5219, sponsored by Rep. Lisa Lyons (R-Alto), includes the fix proposed by the Governor. This bill would allow communication that includes the date of the election and the ballot language but nothing further. This falls far short of factual campaigns that local governments and schools run to make sure their electorate is well informed of the proposals on the ballot.

1/8/16 - The Governor signed Senate Bill 571 into law as Public Act 269 of 2015. As you know, this new law prohibits local and intermediate school districts from distributing factual and unbiased information for 60 days prior to an election. The 60-day gag order goes into effect TODAY for districts and local governments that have a March 8 ballot issue.

This language will have a devastating impact on school districts across the state, severely hampering our efforts to educate voters on local initiatives such as millages, millage renewals, bonds, annexations or consolidations. 

Yesterday, MASB joined with local governments and other school groups in calling for the repeal of the new language included in Section 57 of the law that institutes this gag order. 

12/16/15 - Late last night, House adopted a floor substitute to a campaign finance bill, Senate Bill 571, that took the legislation from 12 pages long to 53 pages at the end of a nearly 12-hour session. Under that substitute, language was added to ban a public body from using public funds or resources for “communication by means of radio, television, mass mailing, or prerecorded telephone message if that communicate references a local ballot question” sixty days before the local election.  This language would severely hamper efforts to educate voters on local initiatives such as millages, millage renewals or bonds.

The language was added without discussion at the very end of the bill.  MASB has sent a letter to the Governor to urge him to veto it.  We are also working with fellow education organizations, townships and municipalities to push this issue.  The new language creates significant issues for districts that want to hold transparent, fair and balanced local elections.