Letter: Furor of election law misplaced

Re: The Jan. 29 Detroit News editorial “Lawmakers should get rid of ‘gag order’: Government officials and their lobbyists have had a lot to say in recent weeks about Senate Bill 571, legislation signed into law this month that prevents government bodies from spending tax dollars on campaign activities. It’s too bad not much of it has been true. Here’s the truth.

When it comes to local officials’ ability to communicate with voters, Senate Bill 571 (now Public Act 269) prevents government from spending tax dollars — and only from spending tax dollars — to promote local ballot questions through four very specific means — television, radio, mass mailings and those annoying robocalls — within 60 days of an election.

That’s it. Period. You can read it for yourself.

For years, Michigan local governments and school districts have taken your tax dollars and spent them on flashy campaign ads and mailers designed to convince you to vote one way or another on various ballot issues.

That’s a terrible use of taxpayers and an abuse of your trust. SB 571 put an end to it.

Let’s unpack a few of the claims local bureaucrats and lobbyists have been making about this commonsense legislation.

■Claim 1: It’s a “gag order” that “limits free speech.”

FALSE. Nothing in SB 571 prevents local government officials, librarians, school administrators or anyone else in Michigan from exercising their First Amendment right to free speech. Absolutely nothing.

■Claim 2: SB 571 makes it illegal for local officials to return phone calls or talk about local ballot issues with their neighbors at the grocery store.

ABSOLUTELY FALSE. Your mayor can still return your phone call. Your school principal can still talk to parents who walk through her office door. Your district can still hold town hall meetings.

■Claim 3: Librarians or elected officials who break the law and spend tax dollars to fund campaigns will go to jail.

FALSE. While these violations can sometimes result in fines, no one in Michigan history has ever gone to prison for violating this section of Michigan’s campaign finance act.

SB 571 prevents your employees in government from opening your wallet and spending your dollars on TV, radio, mass mailers, or robocalls to tell you how to vote, plain and simple.

Voters deserve good government. They deserve public officials who respect their tax dollars. And while they haven’t been getting a lot of it lately on this issue from local officials, taxpayers deserve the truth.

Terri Reid, president

Michigan Freedom Fund