City Manager Formally Denies He Violated Campaign Finance Act

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014, 9:11 pm
By: 
Alice Dreger

In his formal response to the Michigan Department of State regarding a complaint made against him under the Michigan Campaign Finance Act, City Manager George Lahanas has maintained he did not violate the Act by using a taxpayer-funded publication to disseminate his opinion on a ballot proposal. At issue is Lahanas’s use of the City’s September Dialog newsletter to tell residents he hoped they would vote “yes” on a development-related ballot proposal. (The ballot measure, on the sale of City-owned parking lots, failed to pass.)

In his written response dated 24 November and obtained by ELi via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Lahanas reveals that before using Dialog to say he supported a “yes” vote, he first consulted with City Attorney Tom Yeadon to learn if it would be legal. Yeadon apparently advised him he could proceed without legal concern. (We have supplied a PDF of Lahanas’s response here.)

In his letter, Lahanas tells the State that the column’s format, including ending with his personal signature, “made clear to the reader that it is not the ‘City’s view’ on any particular matter, but rather my personal view and, in this case, my personal view on the ballot question.”

Lahanas says that “no additional expenditures were made, or are made, to express my personal views in this publication” because “the same amount of City funds were expended whether or not my view on this topic was included in the newsletter,” which is mailed out on a regular schedule to tens of thousands of residents.

The complaint against Lahanas was filed by East Lansing resident Don Power.

The complaint and Lahanas’s response will now be reviewed by the Department of State, which is expected to then determine whether there is evidence that a violation may have occurred. At that point, according to the Department of State, “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.”

An election mailing which included the recommendation by four City Councilmembers that voters vote “yes” was paid for by a political group funded by the project’s planned developer, not taxpayer dollars, and is therefore not at issue in terms of the Campaign Finance Act.

 

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