“.. 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. In the case of TCAPS for their part 57 violation, it appears there is a new sheriff in town.
TCAPS was assessed a $26,656 fine to be paid back to the district.
“By whom?” is the question being asked so far by our local paper.
TCAPS officials must decide by May 30 whether to accept the ruling and prove reimbursement, which cannot come from TCAPS general fund or other taxpayer-supported funds. If TCAPS officials refuse to pay, the case could be referred to the state attorney general’s office for criminal prosecution.
The state did not specifically state who is responsible for repaying the $25,656.
I can tell you that however.
In 2012 I filed the complaint based on a flyer that asked voters “To Approve”, which is the same as asking the voters to vote “YES.” The Superintendent approved the printing and mailing of the flyers, and DID NOT allow the district attorneys to review prior to the process.
After the resolution of the complaint, where TCAPS was found to be in violation, the Superintendent admited his participation in the violation, and assumed “Full Responsibility.”
“.. Because no mention of any external review by anyone outside of TCAPS, (including but not limited to the Thrun law firm which was then and is now on retainer for its legal services to TCAPS), Mr. Gillman interprets the absence of such mention to mean that in fact TCAPS did not submit the flyer to be reviewed by counsel. If Mr. Gillman is right in this regards, then it is his position that Mr. Cousins and TCAPS specifically erred in not seeking such a timely and cost-effective pre-publication legal review, which would have headed off this whole problem. “
Pretty much clearing the way for my suggestion:
“Mr. Gillman has not sought any monetary damages to be paid to himself, but is adamant that the taxpayer be protected from future abuses of this type. TCAPS needs to pay appropriate penalty for their violation of the campaign finance laws, and Mr. Gillman urges you to consider as one factor in assessing the penalty whether or not Mr. Cousins and TCAPS were exercising prudent and normal standards of governance, & specifically, if they chose not to seek pre-publication legal review by Thrun or other qualified law firm; a consideration that would shed light if it was indeed a willful violation.
Finally, Mr Gillman has one other concern, and offers a possible solution. The penalty as provided for in the statute allows a significant amount to be assessed up to the amount spent and including a misdemeanor sanction for parties involved in said violation. Because these complaints are made to protect the taxpayers, the remedy has often been a very small fine ($100 as noted in a recent Capitol Confidential article) in the informal process so as not to punish the taxpayers twice. The unfortunate result of this, is a weak deterrent to public bodies and administrators which will ‘test’ the limits with little fear of appropriate reprisal.
The solution in this case would be to assess the full damages to the administrator responsible for the violation. In fact, superintendent Stephen Cousins might have made it easier to do so. In response to your office’s determination, Mr Cousins sent out to parents a public letter of apology. It reads:
Dear TCAPS Parents,
In October, a complaint was filed against TCAPS alleging the district violated the Michigan Campaign Finance Act during our 2012 bond informational campaign. TCAPS has been cooperating with the Secretary of State during the course of their investigation.
As soon as we were made aware of the possibility that improper wording may have been used in our mailer, we immediately took steps to halt those communications and adjusted the language to avoid further confusion.
TCAPS has received the disposition from the Secretary of State today regarding the complaint. The Secretary of State disposition states the district mailer contained express advocacy and it further believes that the evidence supports its conclusion that there may be a reason to believe that a violation of section 57 of the Act occurred.
As superintendent, I want to assure you that the district did not intend to violate the Act or mislead the public. I take full responsibility for the issue. On behalf of the district and the Board of Education, I apologize to Mr. Gillman, our parents, staff and community for any confusion the mailer may have caused. We value the trust our community places in TCAPS and we will work with the SOS to resolve this in a manner that will prevent it from occurring again.
Two parts of this letter have been emphasized that could assist you in assessing the damages to the appropriate party.
And then waited until today.
To be continued.