LANSING, Mich. (AP) – Restrictions on when and how municipalities and school districts can inform voters about local ballot issues will go into effect immediately after Gov. Rick Snyder signed them into law on, saying the intent is to prohibit clear attempts to sway voters with mass communications.
The Republican, who had faced pressure from local leaders to veto the “gag order” bill, urged the GOP-controlled Legislature to quickly pass legislation clarifying “confusion” over the law. He said he wants to make sure the expression of personal views by public officials is not affected, nor the use of government facilities for debates or town halls on ballot questions.
The new law, which was quickly approved along party lines in December as part of a broader campaign-finance measure, prohibits public money or resources from being used to disseminate information about local ballot measures through TV and radio ads, mass mailings or robocalls in the 60 days before an election.
“As I interpret this language, it is intended to prohibit communications that are plain attempts to influence voters without using words like ‘vote for’ or ‘support,'” Snyder wrote to legislators. “With this clarified prohibition, there remain many other mechanisms, including private entities, associations, and political action committees to encourage support or opposition to a ballot proposal that do not rely on public resources.”
He added that local governments and schools should still be allowed to distribute “basic information about an election including the proposed or final ballot language and the date of the election.”
Local officials said the law will keep voters in the dark about taxes and other important issues because they no longer will receive unbiased educational materials in the two months prior to an election. Some Republicans who voted for the legislation have said they did not realize its ramifications.
Michigan Townships Association Executive Director Larry Merrill said lawmakers should “reflect on the imperative of an informed citizenry for local democracy to work and immediately amend this over-reaction to a very limited number of abuses.” Michigan Association of Counties Deputy Director Steve Currie questioned the restrictions’ constitutionality.
Conservative groups that backed the law said informational campaigns are biased, and public entities have learned how to promote their cause without explicitly doing so. Michigan Freedom Fund President Terri Reid said “taxpayers can rest a little easier today knowing government bureaucrats and lobbyists won’t be spending their tax dollars to bankroll political campaigns or push for local tax hikes.”
Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan, a liberal organization, called Snyder’s decision risky. “You don’t sign a bill that you have major complaints about and then ask for retroactive changes,” he said.
The law also:
– bars corporations from deducting union PAC contributions from employees’ paychecks while allowing deductions for corporate PACs;
– no longer requires annual consent to automatically deduct PAC contributions; and
– requires the secretary of state to post all campaign-finance complaints and rulings to its website within 45 days.
Public Act 269: http://1.usa.gov/1PL2jjy
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press.