Is it illegal to use government funds to influence an election?

Here’s the background on that question:

To my knowledge, the government of Fulton County provides a website for each county commissioner. My county commissioner, Bill Edwards, has an official website provided by the Fulton County Government and he also has an “extended site” (http://www.co.fulton.ga.us/goodthings/) which appears to be paid for by the Fulton County Government.

On Commissioner Edwards’ extended website, there’s a PDF file entitled “You Have Three Options” in which this quote appears from Edwards:

“As your district commissioner, I have reviewed all of the facts and strongly believe that we should remain unincorporated at this time.”

Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with anyone expressing their opinion on an issue, so I’m not faulting Commissioner Edwards for that.

My concern lies with the fact that it seems as if Bill Edwards is using public funds to influence the outcome of an election.

I’ve put a call into the state ethics commission (I’m waiting on them to call me back) and I’ve tried looking up this subject matter in the OCGA (I liked the other database better), but I can’t find anything that answers my question; so I pose that question to all of you.

Is it illegal to use government funds to influence an election?

13 comments

  1. Jas says:

    Good luck getting someone at the Ethics Commission to call you back. It took 3 weeks and 10 calls before someone got back to me on a PAC issue

  2. Andre:
    Quick answer is “yes.” See OCGA 21-5-30.2 which states in part:
    “No agency and no person acting on behalf of an agency shall make, directly or indirectly, any contribution to any campaign committee, political action committee, or political organization or to any candidate;” (Contribution being defined as “anything of value.”)

    But NB: The more correct answer, in this instance, is “probably not.” There’s no comittee that I’m aware of trying to prevent the incorporation of all or part of Edwards’ district. Even if there were such a committee it would be formed for (or against) a “ballot initiative,” and not a “candidate.” So the laws governing campaign donations, expenditures, etc. would not apply.

    Where and when is this “election” of which you speak?

  3. Harry says:

    Andre,

    Maybe you can explain to us how it’s possible for Atlanta to put out pro-annexation propaganda without use of taxpayer funds

    see here

    What’s really going on is the Atlanta political class is scared to death that the black base in the city is falling below 50%, so they’re trying to scare up some additional annexation in South Fulton. The good citizens of South Fulton are looking at the property tax differentials and schools, and are saying “thanks but no thanks”.

  4. Andre Walker says:

    Harry,

    My honest opinion is that it isn’t possible for the City of Atlanta to put out the documents that you referenced without using public funds.

    However, those documents are done in such a way that it’s extremely difficult to prove that the City of Atlanta was behind it. Sure, it says in big bold letters “Join the City of Atlanta”, but the argument could easily be made that an independent individual (or group of individuals) got together, compiled and paid for that info to be distributed.

    In Bill Edwards’ case, however, he made it so abundantly clear that taxpayers’ dollars were used that you’d have to be blind not to see it.

  5. Harry says:

    That piece was distributred widely in Sandtown. It purports to be coming from City of Atlanta, and I really don’t know who besides the city would have had motivation to pay for it.

  6. Federalist says:

    Well the GOP does it all the time. By putting those damned “constitutional” amendments on the ballot to turn out “haters.” (i.e. gay marriage ban, abortion bans, etc)

  7. Holly says:

    Federalist, just because a person does not support gay marriage does not make them a hater. I do not have a problem with civil unions. I do not like the idea of redefining marriage. That has nothing to do with hating gays.

  8. Looking at the law posted up earlier, are referendums like this considered to be the same as elections?

    Aside from that, it seems to me that he’s using his position to educate and inform his constituents on an issue that he can’t directly represent their interests. To that end, I think it should be expected for him (and any other official representing the area affected by the referendum) to use their offices to let people know where they stand.

  9. Federalist says:

    nevermind. my point was that these ignorant loonies that make a big stink about those types of issues are driven to the polling precincts by these types of proposals…out of hate or some other irrational feeling.

  10. Holly says:

    And my point was that just because I disagree with something doesn’t make me hateful, irrational, or loony – to use your words. Perhaps many more are like me, wanting a middle-ground compromise that wasn’t offered? You’ve jumped to conclusions about people who voted against that particular ballot issue, I believe.

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