Campaign Finance Complaint Filed Against City Manager

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Monday, November 17, 2014, 1:43 pm
Alice Dreger

Above: Photo of the City Manager's controversial Dialog column.

A complaint has been filed with the Michigan Department of State alleging that East Lansing City Manager George Lahanas violated the Michigan Campaign Finance Act. The complaint, filed against Lahanas on November 3 by East Lansing resident Donald Power, relates to Lahanas’s decision to use the September issue of the City’s Dialog newsletter to encourage voters to vote “yes” on the parking lot sale authorization question.

In that column, Lahanas wrote, “As East Lansing’s registered voters go to the polls…it is my hope that they will consider voting ‘yes’ on the ballot proposal of the ‘Sale of City-Owned Property.’” At issue is whether taxpayer funds were improperly used to promote a “yes” vote; funding for the printing and mailing of Dialog comes from City taxpayers.

According to Power, he filed the complaint “because I have a firm belief in that we have laws that govern proper conduct under Campaign Finance, and I believe that George went over the edge. He used public funds to advance a position where the government agency stood to benefit, which is illegal.” He added that he thought Lahanas “got very bad advice [on this matter] from counsel,” i.e., City Attorney Tom Yeadon.

In a letter from the State to Lahanas dated November 10, Lahanas was given fifteen business days to submit a response if he wants one to be considered in the State’s deliberation on the matter. Today, in response to questions from ELi, Lahanas maintains his use of Dialog was appropriate.

Lahanas also tells ELi that City Attorney Tom Yeadon will be advising and/or preparing Lahanas’s response to the State. Lahanas confirmed that the City’s taxpayers will be paying whatever cost Yeadon bills the City to defend Lahanas in this matter.

As ELi reported, in September, Yeadon gave City Council his opinion that Lahanas’s column did not violate the law because "the [Dialog] article on the topic was limited to the dissemination of factual information.” Yeadon also told Council that, "the Campaign Finance Act was intended to prohibit the use of taxpayer funds for the purpose of advancing or defeating a specific ballot proposal. In this instance, because this [Dialog] was a regularly published newsletter, no public funds were expended by simply inserting the City Manager's views on this issue into his regular 'Manager's Message' column."

According to the State’s letter to Lahanas, after a review of “all of the statements and materials provided by the parties,” the Department of State will determine if there is evidence that a violation may have occurred. At that point “the Department’s enforcement powers include the possibility of entering a conciliation agreement, conducting an administrative hearing, or referring this matter to the Attorney General for enforcement of the criminal penalty provided in section 57(3) of the Act.”

Lahanas has said he would not use his Dialog column to endorse candidates, but has used it and would use it again to weigh in on ballot questions of importance to the City.


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