With budget season in full swing, readers may wish to re-acquaint themselves with Connecticut law limiting the expenditures of public funds when a referendum is pending. These rules apply to Boards of Education.
To begin with, until a referendum is actually pending, i.e. all the steps necessary to have it placed on the ballot have occurred, there are no restrictions on what can be done. Once the referendum is pending, however, no public funds may be expended either directly or indirectly “advocating” for the referendum. The term “indirectly” has been interpreted to include using district copiers, postage machines and employees (including Superintendents) working on advocacy while “on the clock”. The only exception is districts may notify people as to date, time and place of the referendum and the question presented. Importantly, any advocacy materials must be removed from the district website during the pendency of the referendum.
A couple of things are allowable during the pendency of the referendum that otherwise would constitute advocacy: A public official can prepare a statement such as a press release which does express a position, as long as it is not used primarily for dissemination to voters (it is OK if it ends up in some peoples hands but a mass distribution is prohibited); and it is acceptable to advocate at Board of Ed meetings (including please get out and vote “yes”).
Additional information can be attained from the State Election Enforcement Commission Website at http://www.ct.gov/seec/site/default.asp