Attorney General Sam Olens this afternoon sent a promised letter to state School Superintendent John Barge, outlining how to enforce state prohibitions on the use of public resources on referendum campaigns.
In other words, Olens outlined how sanctions might be applied against local school boards that are making themselves heard in opposition to the Nov. 6 ballot issue on charter schools. (Or for the measure, let us hasten to add.)
Read the letter here. The courts are one remedy, Olens wrote. The withholding of state funds is another. But then the attorney general wrote this – the emphasis is ours:
In the absence of specific facts, it is difficult to determine which mechanism – if any – ought to be considered for use. I will note, however, that it appears highly unlikely that any substantial state funds have been directly expended for the purpose of electoral advocacy.
It is more likely that potential violations would include expenditure of other public resources: employee time, website postings and the like….[F]or that reason, it may be advisable to focus any enforcement efforts on continuing noncompliance with the law, rather than seeking to recover indeterminate and likely de minimis past misuse of resources….
Depending on the facts of a particular case, unauthorized use of public resources may create a risk of private litigation against the local school entity, and illegal use of public resources for political advocacy may also constitute a violation of the Ethics in Government Act.
Barge, an opponent of the charter school measure, immediately dispatched copies of Olens’ letter to the state’s 180 school superintendents, emphasizing a single sentence with this cover note:
Attached is a letter from Attorney General Sam Olens that further outlines the use of public funding in political advocacy. Mr. Olens notes that it is “highly unlikely that substantial state funds have been directly expended for the purpose of electoral advocacy” regarding the charter school amendment.
Based on the Attorney General’s advice, I do not plan to take any action at this point to enforce the law regarding improper use of state funds by local districts. Please distribute the letter to any parties you deem appropriate.
One additional note: Mike Berlon, chairman of the state Democratic party, last week wrote a letter to Olens wondering if state prohibitions on the use of public resources in campaigns – outlined for Barge by the attorney general – also applied to Gov. Nathan Deal, a proponent of the charter school measure.
Olens responded to Berlon’s letter today, with a letter that included this:
Our October 3 letter provided timely advice at our client’s direct request after our client was threatened with litigation. This is the role of this office. It is not the role of this office to provide legal advice to non-clients seeking to inject partisan politics into a strictly legal issue.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider