Why would our public servants feel compelled to offer opinion on a matter that is not yet before them?
There are 9.9 million people living in Michigan.
Of that number 77% are of voting age, and most are legally able to cast a ballot. And of those who can and do cast their preferences, most have no clue of their responsibilities beyond placing their mark, and walking out from the curtain a couple of days a year.
Indeed, the roughly 7 million registered voters of Michigan will in their lifetime: Miss votes, Make uninformed Votes, Will unknowingly vote in opposition to their interest, and never truly hold their elected officials accountable to promises and integrity of office. They will not complain when lied to, or even call out their own party’s elected when the situation demands it.
But this one will.
Why on earth would we have platforms, rules, and constantly repeated promises of action when at most we might get lip service and disappointment? Why would we have laws to protect the public from abuses of government, when the slight of legalese is used to exempt the perpetrators from culpability?
And why will so few actually speak up against it? Perhaps it should come as no surprise that those few might not want to be told they are wrong, and won’t try in the first place.
On January 20, 2014 it was, and IS my opinion that the Governor of Michigan violated the law. It was in front of hundreds of people who have sworn an Oath to uphold the law, the state’s constitution, and to the best of their ability. It was also before potentially millions of Michiganians who expect their elected leadership to be aware of propriety and appearance of its opposite.
Yet, in the front row of the theater du Republique, and as the governor presented his act of the day, the state’s top law enforcement official watched in a blissfully ignorant manner as Michigan Campaign finance law was violated; If not in fact, then at the very least in spirit.
Michigan’s Campaign Finance Act part 57 starts with:
(1) A public body or a person acting for a public body shall not use or authorize the use of funds, personnel, office space, computer hardware or software, property, stationery, postage, vehicles, equipment, supplies, or other public resources to make a contribution or expenditure or provide volunteer personal services that are excluded from the definition of contribution under section 4(3)(a). The prohibition under this subsection includes, but is not limited to, using or authorizing the use of public resources to establish or administer a payroll deduction plan to directly or indirectly collect or deliver a contribution to, or make an expenditure for, a committee. Advance payment or reimbursement to a public body does not cure a use of public resources otherwise prohibited by this subsection. This subsection does not apply to any of the following:
(a) The expression of views by an elected or appointed public official who has policy making responsibilities.
(b) The production or dissemination of factual information concerning issues relevant to the function of the public body.
(c) The production or dissemination of debates, interviews, commentary, or information by a broadcasting station, newspaper, magazine, or other periodical or publication in the regular course of broadcasting or publication.
(d) The use of a public facility owned or leased by, or on behalf of, a public body if any candidate or committee has an equal opportunity to use the public facility.
(e) The use of a public facility owned or leased by, or on behalf of, a public body if that facility is primarily used as a family dwelling and is not used to conduct a fund-raising event.
(f) An elected or appointed public official or an employee of a public body who, when not acting for a public body but is on his or her own personal time, is expressing his or her own personal views, is expending his or her own personal funds, or is providing his or her own personal volunteer services.
To be sure, the Governor without the violation made, had plenty of latitude for an appeal of support for his position.
(1) (a) is the first subtext, and the one which the bureaucrats have already planned their defense around. MIRs reporting revealed a case from Saline Michigan, and a very specific comment by Secretary of State press relations man Fred Woodhams. From a MIRs article posted on the ACRP website:
“We don’t think there’s a violation there,” said Fred WOODHAMS of the Secretary of State’s office”
A statement that was made by Woodhams without even seeing the complaint. Also:
The City of Saline held a community forum to talk about the proposal and the Mayor spoke in favor of it, but the city didn’t go out of its way to spend any city dollars to directly advocate for the proposal outside of its normal governmental operations.
No one can argue that the Governor, having signed the package to move forward, would not support the proposal to increase the sales tax by 16.7% along with a host of other included fee hikes and handouts. No one could logically expect him to deny his support from the podium while delivering his state of the state message, or even if he is acting in other forums (publicly supported or otherwise) to promote the legislatively punted vision of the new tax onto said voters.
The difference in the presentation however, is critical.
The recent case that will be used to argue for defense of Rick Snyder’s advertisement in the state of the state, is the Saline City Council decision. The complaint was made about the council ‘officially’ supporting the 2014 Proposal 1 through act of council. The complainant argued that public resources were used in express support of a position on the proposal, and the state ruled that under (1) (a) it was allowed to take a position and even reflect that position officially.
The expression of views on the matter was not ruled express advocacy. It was simply an expression of views as is protected by part 57 (1) (a). Even the formulation of a public position by the collective board was considered protected. (a troubling interpretation on its own as we see it, but ..) The decision in favor of the Saline City Council was also buttressed by the claim that the claimant could not provide proof that an alternate viewpoint was prohibited.
But they did not say “We want you to vote yes.” Rick Snyder Did – not just once but, a total of six times within the time frame a paid 30 second commercial might use! And the Governor could not possibly have offered an opposing view in the same venue, and with the same resources allocated as his expressed instruction to “vote yes” was made.
The Bureau of Elections in the Saline case further compared the dissemination of materials expressly advocating an outcome to the action at hand, and made clear that it would have been a violation if the council had done so. One has to wonder if the time spent on repeated “vote yes” instruction in that forum would ever be considered on par with the same value of said advocacy being expended for a simple change of presentation to a print medium?
Imagine if the mayors of Michigan communities bought time on the local television and radio stations to merely “express” their position on any elective issue. The uproar from some parts might be tempered by a coddling bureaucratic interpretation of the elections enforcement, (per (1) (a) ) but it hardly fixes what everyone KNOWS to be a poor and immoral use of public resources.
But step it up to buying time to issue a direct command issued by the mayor that everyone should vote in a specific way, and the board of elections would likely have to rule in favor of any complainant who puts his neck out to cry shenanigans! How could they not with such use of public monies?
So why would the repeated instruction by Governor Snyder in his publicly paid for performance be any different? And if the argument then rides on whether it was in the normal course of business expense, could not such a performance be ruled away at anytime with other business masking the intent to abuse the public?
There is indeed little that is similar between the two cases of Saline and the state of the state other than the fact in Saline, elected officials had taken a position and said something. The presentation of the governor’s effort offers an alternative interpretation that MUST be addressed with an alternate opinion.
The off the cuff denial of probability by public relation personnel (Fred Woodhams in this case) is superfluous and gratuitous. It is typical snubbery of the great unwashed, a class seen as being far below that of the entitled bureaucracy.
This lone voice in 7 million is apparently not worth the time of consideration before all aspects of the complaint are seen. There is always a crazy one in the crowd willing to look the fool for imagined or real violations of the law, right?
Perhaps, and if only it matters.