Firefighters Campaigning for “Yes” Vote Have Violated Campaign Finance Law

Tuesday, October 31, 2017, 5:03 pm
By: 
Alice Dreger

East Lansing firefighters have been knocking on doors to urge a “yes” vote on the proposed City income tax, telling voters, “East Lansing’s fire fighter/paramedics and police are there when you need them. Now they need you.” But the group’s literature may be confusing voters, and County Clerk Barb Byrum has had to inform them they have been in violation of Michigan’s Campaign Finance Act.

Michigan campaign law requires that groups seeking to weigh in on ballot questions like the proposed East Lansing income tax form committees whose names then appear on any literature distributed by the group. The firefighters have been handing out literature (shown below) that state it is “Paid for with regulated funds by: East Lansing Fire Fighters IAFF L-1609.” That is the firefighters’ union, not the ballot committee.

Additionally, although the group formed a proper ballot committee on October 19, the committee failed to file the required campaign finance disclosure last Friday.

Contacted today for verification, Byrum told ELi this afternoon that the literature did indeed appear to violate the law by having the name of the union and not the ballot committee, and that the group was delinquent in filing its financial disclosure.

Last night, ELi contacted Patrick Greathouse and John Newman, the two individuals named on the ballot committee statement of organization as treasurer and record keeper, respectively. We asked them why the literature had the name of the union and not the ballot committee and whether they had yet filed the required campaign finance disclosure.

Neither responded to our message of yesterday, but correspondence logged at the County Clerk’s website late today now shows a letter of apology to Byrum’s office from Newman. That letter says the wrong name on the literature was an “oversight” and goes on to say, “We apologize for the oversight and understand the gravity of the situation. All literature distributed on October 31, 2017 and forward will include” the name of the ballot committee, and not the union.

The committee also filed its financial disclosure today and paid the $50 fine for late filing. That disclosure shows no funds received or spent.

As shown below, literature that had been distributed around neighborhoods urges voters to “vote yes on question 1,” which many East Lansing voters may find confusing. For those East Lansing voters who live in Ingham County (which is the great majority), the first ballot proposal is not the income tax but a County millage increase. The firefighters’ literature might lead voters to think it is the County millage that would provide support to emergency services in East Lansing.

In our message to Greathouse and Newman yesterday, ELi asked whether they are aware that the first proposal on the Ingham County East Lansing ballot is about the County millage increase, and whether “vote yes on 1” is meant to refer to the City property tax. As noted above, they have not responded.

It would appear the group’s literature has attempted to garner support for emergency service providers through “yes” votes on the income tax without mentioning the income tax itself. Because the literature that was being distributed was in violation of Campaign Finance Law and the group now knows it, it appears likely that this particular literature will no longer be distributed.

ELi has covered funding of the “yes” and “no” campaigns in yesterday’s special report on campaign finance disclosures. There we reported that the Yes campaign has been fully funded by residents of East Lansing—mostly City Council members—and that the No campaign has brought in ten times more funds, but obtains only 20% of its funds from East Lansing residents and businesses. Two-thirds of No funding is coming from the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce.

You can read ELi’s extensive coverage of the three tax proposals on the November 7 ballot by clicking here.