District should register as PAC for referendum

Something to keep in mind for the next referendum, I’m reading “Illinois Laws Affecting the School Finance Referendum“ found at: http://www.iasb.com/pdf/referendum.pdf

During the 2017 referendum, CUSD 200 should have registered as a political committee.

On page 3 under “PUBLIC COMMUNICATIONS” heading it states

A state appellate court in 2009 went even further in regulating the use of public funds in election communications.3 The court held that any communication that “refers to a clearly identified question of public policy that will appear on the ballot” must be treated as an electioneering communication. And if a school board expends more than $3,000 in any 12-month period for such communication, the board must register as a local political committee and abide by requirements of Article 9 of the Election Code. [emphasis added]

The court did not appear to make any exception for a board communication that calls attention to a specific election question in a neutral manner.

Where a school district would expect to spend more than $3,000 for lawful communications alerting voters to a public policy election, a board might be well advised to delegate even such impartial of communication to a citizens committee. Even a board that is willing to register as a political committee would be faced with tracking costs associated with printing and mailing, including staff time…

Looking at a post from Feb. 2017 CUSD 200 PR spending we see for the last referendum the district spent $11,772 on printing and mailing 40,000 “Investing in Our Future” referendum Brochures.

pr_2017 ref mailer

This clearly exceeds the $3,000 threshold.  CUSD 200 should have registered as a political committee for the 2017 referendum.

We also noted in “CUSD 200 video – $180 is misleading” that Superintendent Jeff Schuler stared in pro-referendum videos, filmed on district property and paid for with district funds after the referendum was placed on the ballot.   Clearly this violates the cautions in the same section of the IASB document.

Like members of the board, school district employees enjoy the common rights of citizenship on their own time. They, too, can perform referendum work so long as they are not on compensated time or using district equipment or supplies. School employees should not engage in activities designed to support the referendum during their work day (or during “compensated time”). The Ethics Act specifically defines participation in a political event or support of a candidate or referendum as a “prohibited political event” during the “compensated time” for a governmental employee. Determining when the superintendent or other administrator is on “compensated time” will be problematic, as will distinguishing between support for a referendum and simply compiling and communicating facts regarding the referendum.

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