Building Literacy: Public Library Construction

Campaign Finance Law and Advocacy: A Conversation with Jason Tait from OCPF

April 09, 2021 Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners Construction Team Season 4 Episode 4
Building Literacy: Public Library Construction
Campaign Finance Law and Advocacy: A Conversation with Jason Tait from OCPF
Show Notes Transcript

On this episode of Building Literacy, we talk campaign finance law with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance's Communications and Education Director Jason Tait. In previous episodes of our advocacy stories series, we have mentioned both the Office of Campaign and Political Finance  (https://www.ocpf.us/) and the State Ethics Commission (https://www.mass.gov/orgs/state-ethics-commission) as offices to consult with any questions about advocacy or fundraising. Jason describes in detail the work of OCPF, but it is important to note that the State Ethics Commission in Massachusetts may have differing opinions on the activities we discuss with Jason. For assistance with specific questions or scenarios, please do contact both of these agencies or the equivalent in your state if you reside or work outside of Massachusetts. 

Andrea Bunker  00:00

Welcome to Building Literacy: Public Library Construction, a podcast for librarians, trustees, and local officials who are exploring or undertaking a renovation, expansion, or new construction project for their library. My name is Andrea Bunker.

 

Lauren Stara  00:15

And my name is Lauren Stara. And we are the library building specialists who administer the Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program, a multi-million dollar grant program run by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, which is the state agency for libraries. 

 

Andrea Bunker  00:33

While this podcast is Massachusetts-focused, stakeholders in library building projects everywhere may find helpful information within these episodes. From fundraising and advocacy campaigns, to sustainability and resilience, to the planning, design, and construction process. There is something for everyone. If there's a public library building project topic we have not covered, but that is of interest to you, please email me at [email protected] 

 

Lauren Stara  01:01

or me at [email protected] 

 

Andrea Bunker  01:05

On this episode of Building Literacy, we talk campaign finance law with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance's Communication and Education Director Jason Tait. In previous episodes of our advocacy stories series, we have mentioned both the Office of Campaign and Political Finance and the State Ethics Commission as offices to consult with any questions about advocacy or fundraising. Jason will describe in detail the work of OCPF, but it is important to note that the State Ethics Commission in Massachusetts may have differing opinions on the activities we discuss with Jason. The State Ethics Commission, as stated on their website, www.mass.gov/orgs/state-ethics-commission, is an independent state agency that administers and enforces the provision of the conflict of interest law and financial disclosure law. In March of 2011, the State Ethics Commission authorized Advisory 11-1 Public Employee Political Activity, which is the most recent advisory on that subject. When a certain activity is discussed in our interview with Jason, we will include the pertinent content from the Advisory, which will display how the two independent agencies interpret various advocacy and fundraising activities. For assistance with specific questions or scenarios, please do contact both of these agencies or the equivalent in your state if you reside or work outside of Massachusetts. Alright, let's dive right in. First, I want to say welcome. Thank you, Jason, for being here with us today. We're hoping that you can tell us a little bit about the Office of Campaign and Political Finance and your role there.

 

Jason Tait  02:45

Oh, sure. I'd be happy to talk about our office because a lot of your listeners, perhaps they're not very political. And they're wondering, "Why do I have to listen to a guy from the state campaign finance office today?" Our office gets involved only if it has to do with an election where people from the community are deciding on a question or candidates, and money or resources are involved. So anytime you have those two mixed together, OCPF and the campaign finance law, we're implicated, we need to jump into the game. We're a very small office. I think the state budget's north of $40 billion right now. We're $1.8 million of that. So just a drop in the bucket. But we have a bit of a large impact because of what we deal with, which is disclosure. Money raised, money spent in a campaign needs to be disclosed to the public. So we're basically the campaign finance helpers for anybody involved in a campaign who needs to accomplish that disclosure goal. We're here to help you guys file those reports and stay in compliance with the law. We are an independent, nonpartisan agency. Personally, I'm an unenrolled voter. I don't even want to go to the primaries, you know, and have people say, "Oh, you vote Republican or Democrat." I try and stay right down the middle with everything. And how we accomplish that really is how the Director of the agency is appointed. So we don't have a Commission. We don't report to anybody. We don't report to the Governor of the Secretary of State. Once every six years, a group of four individuals gets together to appoint a Director of OCPF. And those people are the Secretary of State, a law school dean who's appointed by the governor, the head of the Republican Party, and the head of the Democratic Party. And those four people have to get together and agree unanimously on an individual. And they just did that recently, at the end of February, they decided that the new Director of OCPF would be Bill Campbell, out of Woburn, the City Clerk there. But the point of this whole outline for you is that the Republicans and the Democrats had to agree on somebody, and so they agreed on Bill Campbell, and he has to come in, and he has to put partisanship aside and just sort of be a referee for the campaign finance law moving forward for the next probably six years. They're still deciding on how long this term is going to be. But we're a nonpartisan independent agency, and our goal day in and day out is to help folks to disclose their campaign finance activity.

 

Andrea Bunker  05:06

Thank you for that highlight of what your office does. Do you want to talk a little bit more about your role there?

 

Jason Tait  05:12

My role at OCPF being independent, nonpartisan, was not too difficult for me because I came from the journalism field where you're supposed to be nonpartisan and independent for your reporting. And I was a newspaper reporter for about 10 years. Eight of those years were at the Eagle Tribune, which is a company that publishes newspapers across the Merrimack Valley, then down into Gloucester. I also worked at a newspaper in Illinois. But my role here at OCPF, really is to teach people to campaign finance law. And sometimes it's fun, because I get to go on Twitter. And the current Director, Mike Sullivan has no issue with us having a little bit of fun on Twitter with a goal of "Hey, we just need to let people know what the campaign finance law is. And in order to do that, if we have to be a little bit silly, sometimes on Twitter, go for it." The whole point is allowing people into our world and allowing them to learn the campaign finance law. But then we get a little more serious on the website. If you go to our website, ocpf.us. As Communications Director, I control the content on the front page of the website there. So we have a lot of advice and announcements there on the front page. I also do a quarterly newsletter for OCPF. And we do a monthly newsletter for your city and town clerks. And we also do YouTube videos and seminars like this. And so my goal is just to educate the campaign finance community on the law. We have a team of auditors at OCPF that help people comply with the law. And then we have a group of lawyers, and they'll answer your questions, or they'll resolve issues if you make mistakes. So I'm sort of on the front end, where if I do my job correctly, then you probably won't have to deal with our attorneys. 

 

Andrea Bunker  06:53

And we have read a Boston magazine article that I believe called your Twitter feed the most entertaining state government Twitter feed that exists. 

 

Jason Tait  07:02

We try to have fun with it. 

 

Andrea Bunker  07:05

And I think people appreciate that because it can be a drier subject. But it's something that's really important for everyone to know.

 

Jason Tait  07:13

Yeah, if you are having trouble sleeping, just grab the campaign finance law and start reading. I'll tell you that.

 

Andrea Bunker  07:19

So we're happy that we have you here to kind of interpret some of it for us and for our library building project stakeholders, because it can get confusing. When we're talking about public libraries, the governance structure is different depending on which municipality you're in. So we have some libraries that are municipal libraries. We have some libraries that are Corporation libraries, Association libraries. The ones that have a Board of Trustees that own the building and oversee the director, but the municipality provides the budget for the operations and staffing of that particular library. And then we have municipal libraries that are run by the city or the town. So there are all different types of iterations of this. We have trustees that are elected, appointed, self-perpetuating, so they come in all different forms. So we often get questions from different library boards, because they don't know the extent to which they can advocate for a public library building project, in what capacity, the same with staff and administration. And then we get into the foundation and friends groups, and those foundation and friend groups are usually 501 (c) (3)s, but your trustees could also be 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organizations, too, so they're all of these different structures that are involved within one public library. I guess we'll start off with library staff and administration. Are they allowed to advocate for their public library building project?

 

Jason Tait  08:54

Yes. So there are many different elements that you just discussed. And for us, those details matter. But we like to just kind of look at the bottom line, which is the campaign finance law as well as the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts has said that public resources may not be used for campaign purposes. So we sort of use that as the baseline. And hopefully your library directors and employees who are listening to this sort of use that as their baseline as well. If a public resource is going to be used, call a timeout and just say, "wait a second, guys, perhaps we shouldn't do this because public resources may not be used for campaign purposes." So that's how we always go into it. Are any public resources, anything paid for by the taxpayers, are those resources being used to support or oppose a question being put before the voters? And you're right most of the time, when we're dealing with libraries, it has to do with a new building or fixing up the library and you need the taxpayers to agree to increase their taxes to pay for that. Sometimes we get into some library Trustees, I understand that are elected, so sometimes we deal with that, as well as maybe the increase of the budget for the library that might need voter approval. So we always say, are public resources going to be used? Your direct question was can public employee candidates advocate? Depends, first of all, on your position. So advocate, does that mean that if I am just a standard library employee sitting at the desk, and someone comes up to check out a book, can I grab a flyer from under the desk and say, "Hey, great book, you know, it's due in three weeks, by the way, vote yes, on the new upcoming building project," and I stick that flyer in their book and hand it to them? No, you wouldn't be able to do something like that. But when that library employee goes home, and he or she turns on their personal Facebook page, they could go on Facebook and say, "Hey, I work at the library. And if anyone in town is reading this, please vote yes, the pipes are leaking, and the wind blows through the windows, we just need a new building. Please vote yes, it's worth it." That would be fine. So really, they're on their own time, there are no public resources being used, that's fine. But if you're at work, if your job is to help people check out books, then that's what you should do without advocating for the question. If you don't mind me going on, I'll just say that sometimes there are gray areas. We call these public resources or Anderson discussions, what we're talking about now, these public resource issues. And there are a lot of gray areas that can be frustrating for the people who run libraries and also want to get a new library building passed. So we would say something like, the scope of responsibility for a standard library worker checking out books is to check out books. But the library director? Their job is the big picture, not just providing reading materials for the public, but also the budget, and oh, we're gonna lose our library credentials, if we don't get a new building or something like that. This thing's falling apart. You know, their scope of responsibility is larger. So let's say that a library director gets a call from the local radio station, or maybe even a podcaster in the community. And they say, "hey, at 11am on Tuesday, can you come in and talk to us about the library project?" That's during the work day. Would they be able to go and speak to the media at 11am? We'd say, "Yeah, that would be okay." Because within their scope of responsibility to go and do that. Bottom line is, if you think you're in that gray area, send an email to OCPF. Our attorneys will read your email and probably respond to you that day to let you know if what you're doing is right or wrong, or maybe needs to be changed a little bit. That way you have it in black and white. So if someone questions you can say, "Hey, OCPF said that our library director could go to the radio station at 11am and talk about the project."

 

Lauren Stara  12:39

Can I ask a question about that? Jason? Say I'm a library director and I'm at a radio station and they are interviewing me. My understanding is that I can provide information about the project about the library, but I cannot say, "Vote yes." Is that correct? Or am I wrong?

 

Jason Tait  13:01

The campaign finance law allows a library directors to say, "yes, I believe you should vote yes on this for these reasons." Just to frustrate your listeners a little bit more, the issues we're talking about today, even if OCPF says it's okay, we also recommend that you call the Ethics Commission. That's a totally different agency with the state, but they also have some stake in this game. And so you should consult both agencies OCPF and Ethics. And, yes, I understand that's frustrating.

 

Andrea Bunker  13:30

So, let's check in with Advisory 11-1 from the state Ethics Commission regarding public employee political activity. They state that public employees who hold policymaking positions have more leeway to make public statements and take official action on political issues then do non policymakers. They define a policymaking position as follows. A policymaking position is one in the top management level of a governmental agency in which the holder actively participates in determining the agency's policies or plans of action which would include a library director. For example, on the municipal level, library directors, although appointed, serve and policymaking positions, and are customarily expected, if not required, to take position on matters within the purview of or affecting their respective agencies. A library director is expected to have a view on whether the public library should be expanded. So let's get back to Jason and get some clarification on what that advocacy can actually look like.

 

Jason Tait  14:36

We don't want it to look like you are campaigning though. So a library director shouldn't say this whole week, I'm going to be out in the community advocating for this thing. That's not what we're talking about. A good illustration would be we actually say that, let's say you want to build a new library or put on an addition, your library director should analyze that and come up with some sort of reasoning for why this building needs to be built. And he or she can take that study and put it on the library's website. And in that study, it can even say, we believe, as library directors and the Board of Trustees that this building needs to be built and people should approve it to avoid these consequences. And that can even appear on the website. We just don't want, as an illustration, it's extreme, someone to go to the website, and there's this flashing light that says "vote yes. vote yes. vote yes." We don't want to see that. We'd rather just see a link that says, "For more information about the library project, click here," and they can go to the study. Do you ever feel like you're like, I don't know, maybe we've gone a little too far here with this, send it to OCPF will give you a thumbs up or thumbs down.

 

Andrea Bunker  15:41

So with the trustees, we've always thought that part of their role is advocacy. Does it matter how they come into their role in terms of how much advocacy they can do?

 

Jason Tait  15:54

Library trustees generally aren't paid stipends? Correct. They're either elected or appointed, and they're just volunteers, no stipends?

 

Andrea Bunker  16:02

Right. 

 

Jason Tait  16:02

Those are your individuals who are probably going to push this project in the community. Public employees, like the library director, library employees, they can't raise money or spend money to support or oppose a ballot question. So that responsibility generally falls on the trustees. And what we see might be a couple of Trustees start a ballot question committee, raise money, and they're the ones who buy the "vote yes on the library" signs and boost Facebook posts saying "vote yes!" They're the ones who really take control of this. A lot of times, you might be thinking, well, if I can't use public resources to advocate for this, you can't use your library budget to send out a mailing to the community saying, "vote yes!" Then who does that? Who pays for these things? It's usually these Friends of the Library, these trustees, these foundations. They'll get together and they'll create a ballot question committee. That's the disclosure part we're talking about. And they're the ones who will be doing that. And so they'll raise money, they'll spend money. They have to put that information into an OCPF campaign finance report and file that with the city or town clerk. And that's how it rolls along.

 

Andrea Bunker  17:09

So as they're raising money for those advocacy efforts, are there any limits on the amount of money that they can spend?

 

Jason Tait  17:17

No limits, and they can take money from just about anybody. If you're familiar with candidate elections in your cities and towns, candidates have strict limits, and they can't take money from businesses and things like that. If you're a ballot question committee, you can take money from businesses. There are no limits on how much a business or a union or an individual can give. It's all about disclosure when it comes to ballot questions. There might be a corporation in town that really supports libraries. So they give you $10 grand. That's great. You just have to put it in the report and say that Corporation XYZ, $10 grand, and that way the public knows who funded that campaign. 

 

Andrea Bunker  17:54

If it's a nonprofit, like the trustees, or the friends or foundation, we've heard the number 20% can be spent on advocacy efforts via the IRS. Is that different than what you're saying? The IRS's 20% rule of whatever they have in their coffers. Does that apply? Or does it not apply?

 

Jason Tait  18:17

So, we have our rules, which is no limits, but if you have a nonprofit that's designated through some sort of 501 designation with the IRS, then you'll probably want to follow their rules as well. But as far as we're concerned, we would never say "Ooh, you've exceeded the 20%. There's an issue here." That, those aren't our rules, that's something that organization would have to deal with with the IRS. And what you're talking about now are funds that already exist in a general treasury, not funds that are raised for the purpose of supporting or opposing a ballot question. So let me just quickly make that distinction. Let's say you do have a nonprofit in town that's for the library, a 501 (c) (3) or something like that. And they regularly raise money through book sales or a hotdog roast or whatever, and they have, you know, a few thousand dollars in their general treasury. If they decide to, they can take a portion of that money - I'm not talking about the IRS 20% limit - but they can take a portion of that money, and they can buy lawn signs or take out an ad in the local paper. We don't care as long as that's disclosed to the public. But if at any time they're like, "okay, we have $3,000 in our account, we need that for programs. Let's raise some money to support this ballot question and put it in our fund." At that point, you have to say, "okay, timeout, you are now a ballot question committee. You're raising money for the purpose of supporting this ballot question for the new library. So you're gonna have to fill out that OCP form and create a ballot question on the side to do that." Two separate entities.

 

Andrea Bunker  19:44

And do you consider a city council vote or a town council vote be the same as a ballot question?

 

Jason Tait  19:50

No, we do not. And the law doesn't either. Many times if you're going to build a new library, it does need to pass town meeting or get approval from the city council. If it's in combination with a town meeting, and then a ballot question, we're gonna say, that's all the same to us. If you're raising and spending money, even if for the town meeting, 99% of the time, you're probably going to have to have a ballot question anyway, that's how we view that. But let's say you only want like a 3% bump in your budget. And it doesn't actually have to go to an election. And only the city council or town meeting has to decide, there won't be a future ballot question, we're hands off. The law doesn't allow us to administer or require disclosure for those town meeting or city council actions. 

 

Andrea Bunker  20:32

Interesting. Because mine actually did not go to a ballot question. It was a City Council vote. And I'm wondering, too, if that depends on how it's going to be financed, if it falls within the debt ceiling that you already have or if you have to go for a debt exclusion?

 

Jason Tait  20:46

Yeah, if it was only a requirement of your city council to say, yes, we're going to do it, then we're hands off as far as the campaign finance law goes. Although if you would have conducted a campaign to try and get the city council to vote yes, you know, there may have been complaints, and it may cause some agitation in the community, but it wouldn't have been illegal.

 

Andrea Bunker  21:05

So, sticking with fundraising, obviously, there are many different entities that are involved with a library that do fundraising. I feel like we've covered this a little bit already with the advocacy. But if they're raising money for the actual project itself and not for advocacy, are there any limits there?

 

Jason Tait  21:25

No, we're hands off on that as well. We've had this question before, where a group of pro library folks might go around the community asking businesses to donate to the actual construction. Our role is if money is raised for the purpose of influencing the election, which that would not be. So we would say that that would be okay. In fact, if it's not for the ballot question, even the library director himself or herself could raise money for my capital project. Although, when it comes to raising money, I want to mention this real quick, when it comes to raising money for the ballot question, all of your public employees have to be hands off. The law bans public employees, appointed public employees, from soliciting or receiving campaign contributions. So if the trustees or the Friends of the Library group does set up a ballot question committee, and then they go to the library director and say, "Hey, here are 10 tickets to our fundraiser that's coming up, they're 25 bucks a head, can you sell 10 of those?" The library director will have to say "I can't do it, because I can't ask for money. And I can't solicit funds, I can't receive funds." So your appointed public employees may not solicit or receive for the campaign, not for the capital project. So I said earlier that a public employee at the library could go on his private facebook page and advocate for voting yes. But that same employee if he went home, and he said, "Please vote yes on the library. By the way, we're trying to raise some money for it. Can you click this link and donate $10 to the effort to vote yes, on the library project?" At that point, he's violated state law.

 

Andrea Bunker  22:56

So on social media, you can just announce your views on the particular project itself, but you can't bring people to the next step, which would be donating.

 

Jason Tait  23:08

Correct.

 

Lauren Stara  23:08

Can I just, again, clarify. My understanding is it's not social media, or whatever the format is. It's whether you're on work time, or off of work time, whether you can advocate. And the difference is when you're not on the clock, you can advocate, but you can never solicit money.

 

Jason Tait  23:29

24/7, nationwide. That's right.

 

Andrea Bunker  23:33

So let's pause right here and check back in with Advisory 11 -1 from the State Ethics Commission. What can an appointed public employee do in relation to a public library building project? We already know from Jason that they allow a public employee who is appointed to engage in activity on their own time. In Advisory 11-1, they state in general, public employees of all types may engage in private political activity subject to the restrictions on political fundraising imposed by General Law c. 55. The conflict of interest law does not prohibit a public employee from engaging in political activity on his own time, using his own or other private resources, and when he is acting for himself and not as an agent or representative of anyone else. There are further examples of election related political activity that any public employee may do on his own time and without the use of official title or public resources without raising any issue under the conflict of interest law. With his own stationary computer or wireless account, write letters to the editors or blog about political issues. Distribute advocacy literature or hold a sign expressing his political views. With his own computer and email or wireless account, send emails or text messages expressing his political views. Contribute his own funds in compliance with the campaign finance law to a campaign committee for a candidate or concerning a ballot question. Answer voter survey questions, and vote in any election. Similarly, public employees may engage in non-election related political activity on their own time without the use of public resources and as private citizens. Any public employee acting in her official capacity and using public resources, and acting in a neutral and nonpartisan manner may notify the public that a state, county, or a federal election will be held on a certain date, and encourage all voters to vote. A public employee may also neutrally notify the public generally that a town meeting will be held on a certain date, and neutrally encourage all voters or members to attend. Public resources may not be used to notify only a subset of voters in order to influence the outcome of the vote or meeting. For example, notifying only the parents of schoolchildren of a ballot question whether to fund a new public school and not notifying childless homeowners would be prohibited, because it would not be neutral. Let's delve a little bit further into what trustees, foundations, and friend groups can do in relation to social media.

 

Jason Tait  26:21

If trustees and those folks, Friends of the Library, if they have their own private social media platforms, you know, the Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, whatever, they can go on there and advocate all they want. The restriction would be if public resources are being used. So imagine a library that has its own Instagram account. I'm sure some of them do. And some public employee at the library, like me, where I do my Twitter account for OCPF, they're at the library, and they're doing tweets, and they're doing Instagrams to, I don't know, encourage reading and that sort of thing. And then one day, they decide "man, this ballot question's coming up, I'm gonna send out an Instagram, asking people to vote yes, I'm gonna take a picture of that leaky pipe up there. So they know why we need a new building." And they post that to the Instagram account. We'd say that's an issue. That's a public employee on the clock, using the official library Instagram account to advocate for people voting yes, we'd say that's not something you want to do, but on their own private account on their own time, they can do what they'd like the song as they don't fundraise. So these are the kinds of things though, that aren't always so obvious. There are a lot of gray areas. So if you're a library director, and you have a campaign and election coming up, just urge caution with your staff, and encourage them say, "Hey, if you think you're going to do something that might use public resources, send an email to OCPF, so they can give you a thumbs up or thumbs down."

 

Andrea Bunker  27:44

So then, from there, if you are having a foundation fundraiser for the library for the building project, can you share that on your library, social media pages?

 

Jason Tait  27:54

Yes. You're talking about raising money for actual brick, mortar and wood? Yup.

 

Andrea Bunker  27:59

Are there any other laws or parameters that our listening public needs to know about social media and its use?

 

Jason Tait  28:08

The issues we're talking about today, public resources, these rules were really written down in the late 70s. This was before social media, obviously, and most of the computer world we live in now. So OCPF has had to sort of interpret a 1970 Supreme Judicial Court decision, today's time, and so we're still ironing out some of the issues ourselves. In fact, we just recently issued our first regulations concerning social media, maybe in the last year or so. It's new to us. And as new media platforms come up and are used, if people have questions, ask us the question. We may not even know the answer right away, because we haven't dealt with it. So we'll have to sit around a virtual law table at this point, because of the pandemic, but sit around a table and try and iron out what's fair and and what you can do moving forward. So bottom line is, if you think public resources are being used, hit the brakes, ask us to find out whether what you're doing is allowable or not.

 

Andrea Bunker  29:07

So this is in the same vein as the social media sharing of the foundation fundraiser or whatever it may be. We have a lot of questions that we get about donate buttons on websites for libraries. What you said before is for the campaign, you can't have something flashing "vote yes!" And you could have something that links to more information about the building project. But oftentimes libraries, especially those I believe that have trustees that are separate 501 (c) (3) organizations, they will have a way for people to give and do planned giving to that particular institution. So can they have a Donate button on the homepage or embedded on another page on their website?

 

Jason Tait  29:54

I'm kind of glad you asked this question because you know earlier you asked a question can an official library Instagram account encourage people to donate to the capital campaign. The answer is yes. But there always buts gray areas. We just want the reader, the person viewing that Instagram page or viewing your website, we want them to understand that they are donating to the capital campaign. And that whatever they're being asked has nothing to do with the actual vote yes. So I would be careful. If I'm running the Instagram account for the library, if I'm going to post donate to our capital campaign, I don't want to have anything in there that sort of indicates, by the way, there's a valid question coming up on this issue, you know, kind of a hint, hint, wink wink kind of thing. Same with your website, you may even want to make it clear, you know, donate to the capital campaign and have a button there. And then if you have room maybe some language that donating to this entity, or for this project, has nothing to do with the ballot question. This is the actual donation to build the building, you know, something. Just make it very clear what people are donating to, and also makes sure that there's no language in there that can be misinterpreted to be advocacy to vote yes on a project. 

 

Andrea Bunker  31:01

One of the other ways in which a lot of the entities affiliated with libraries try to raise money, usually on the smaller side, the friends groups is having what you may call a raffle or a drawing. What is the difference between a raffle and a drawing? And what do these entities need to know before they have a fundraising activity that involves one?

 

Jason Tait  31:24

So of course, we only care if you're raising money for the ballot question. When it comes to your raffles or whatever, to raise money for the capital project or whatever, anything that's outside the election, that's between you and the attorney general's office. But as far as the campaign finance law is concerned, our understanding based on guidance can the attorney general's office is that political committees are not among the groups that can legally hold raffles. The terms they use our games of chance. So I walk up to you I say, "Hey, give me $1, I'll give you this ticket. And maybe you can win a new iPad or something like that." So for us games of chance, are off the table as far as political committees being able to raise funds. I think you're kind of asking like, what about maybe like a door prize, but what's the difference? Our office, because we don't administer that law, we just say political committees cannot conduct games of chance. According to our guidance from the attorney general's office, you say you want to have a door prize? I guess that means like, if I walk through the door to this fundraiser, I am entered into a drawing. I didn't give them extra money or anything. I'm just entered into a drawing to win that iPad. My understanding is those sorts of things are probably allowed. But that's not up to us to say. Your library directors and folks, Trustees, should contact the attorney general's office because they administer that portion of the state law.

 

Andrea Bunker  32:40

So if it's a raffle, or a drawing that is in conjunction with the actual bricks and mortar capital campaign, that is something that would fall outside of your jurisdiction. 

 

Jason Tait  32:52

Correct.

 

Andrea Bunker  32:53

What are some common mistakes or misunderstandings of the law that you see when it comes to library building projects, or it might not be as specific as that, any public capital project? Anything that you think our listeners should be aware of?

 

Jason Tait  33:08

Oh, we get all sorts of questions. One was one that Lauren asked about, there's no advocacy, right? You're never allowed to say vote yes, on something. That's a misunderstanding. So they can do that. This is another question we get sometimes. You know, I'll get a phone call. Hey, Jason, I want to file a complaint against the library director. Oh, my goodness, why what happened? I saw her pull up to the library. And there's a "vote yes" sticker on her bumper, you know, she's not allowed to campaign, right? No, we don't care if people have, you know, things on their vehicles and they park. Those aren't the sorts of things that we're interested in. But I will say this, if the library director pulls out of her trunk, a sign that says vote yes on the library. And she plants that right in the front yard of the library for people to see when they drive by? We'd say that's okay, even, but you've just opened up the floodgates to allow everybody to post signs on your lawn. So public resources may not be used unless equal access is granted. So in other words, when she posts that vote yes lawn sign in the front lawn of the library, she has now opened up the world of politics on the front lawn. So if I'm the vote no group, I can actually walk up and say, "You put your sign there? I'm putting my sign right here." Those are rare circumstances, what you might actually see is the vote yes group saying, "Hey, we're gonna have an organizational meeting, you know, a strategy meeting in the libraries function room? Can we do that?" Yes, you may. It's a public resource, but you may do so if when the no group calls and they ask for the same access to that function room under the same terms and conditions, then the library director would have to say yes, you can also use our function room for your strategy meeting. So public resources prohibited unless equal access is granted.

 

Andrea Bunker  34:48

You brought up the yes to our library groups. Other libraries, their trustees have formed the separate ballot committees. That's something that is recommended or necessary. by law?

 

Jason Tait  35:01

Oh, it's recommended if you want to get the word out the library itself using public resources, you're not allowed to get the word out. Right? If you want to get the word out to the voters, yeah, there's gonna have to be a ballot question committee set up so they can raise money and send out those mailers and boost those Facebook posts. That ballot question committee on the side is recommended. Now, there doesn't have to be just one. Maybe the trustees set up one, maybe the Friends of the Library set up one, there can be multiple ballot question committees. 

 

Andrea Bunker  35:29

But the trustees can't just move forward and advocate as such?

 

Jason Tait  35:33

Depends on what they're doing. I mean, if it's on their own time, using their private social media accounts, yeah, they can advocate. But let's say the trustees have access to a portion of the library budget. They're allowed to mail out a monthly newsletter, and they get a budget of $8,000 a year. You know, they wouldn't want to use a portion of that budget to also mail out a vote yes, flyer saying, "Vote yes on this" They have access to budget money. They're using public funds, they don't want to advocate for that.

 

Andrea Bunker  36:00

What if they have trust funds?

 

Jason Tait  36:02

Trust funds that are private, like an endowment or something like trust? That's a situation where they did not raise money for the purpose of supporting or opposing your question. They just have this pot of gold sitting there. And they decide we're going to use a portion of that to send out a mailer. They can. They're not even a ballot question committee, because they didn't raise money for that purpose. They just spent $5,000 on a town wide mailer. That still needs to be disclosed. I don't want to get into like all the bureaucratic stuff, it's called an M 22. form, they have to file an M 22 form with the clerk saying, "we spent $5,000 of our trust money to send out a mailing to the town to advocate for the ballot question." They file that form with the clerk for the public disclosure. So they can do so. They still have to disclose their activity, though.

 

Lauren Stara  36:47

So I have a follow up question. When you were talking about the library director with her lawn sign? What about things like wearing buttons or t shirts, or those kinds of things? For library staff?

 

Jason Tait  37:01

Yeah, we would discourage that. You know, I'm not sure that we'd be willing to go to court over someone wearing a button. We don't really want to be the button police. But if a library employee's wearing a button that says "vote yes on the project", there's going to be complaints. They're going to be the person in town who runs the town Facebook site, people are going to be on there complaining library people during the day are wearing buttons. We would discourage that sort of activity just to reduce the number of complaints in the community. 

 

Andrea Bunker  37:28

So, it's not illegal. 

 

Jason Tait  37:30

I don't know if I want to use the word illegal, but it's certainly not within the spirit of the campaign finance law. So we would discourage it.

 

Andrea Bunker  37:37

What are the most important points or takeaways for public library building project stakeholders to remember as they embark on a campaign of advocacy or fundraising? 

 

Jason Tait  37:48

So if you've listened to this whole podcast, you know that if you're running a library, your hands are tied. There's not a lot that you can do to advocate for the ballot question. So the takeaway really is if you have a new library project coming up, and you need voter approval, you're really going to need a group on the side to form a ballot question committee, so that you can speak about this. And by speak, I mean, unsolicited communications to the public. You want to do a mailing, you want those lawn signs out there, you want to boost those Facebook posts, you're going to have to have a group raising money on the side, private money to fund this campaign. The resources that you have, the public resources, you have, that library budget, those resources should not be used to move this project forward, as far as unsolicited communications being pushed out to the public. Now, like I said, though, of course, you can post to the website, your library director can do media interviews, that sort of thing. But unfortunately, and I know this is frustrating, your hands are a bit tied when it comes to these campaigns. And you really do need to depend on your friends, library friends, to find these campaigns to get your buildings approved by the voters.

 

Andrea Bunker  38:58

So you're also saying to just to bridge off of that, that if you have a friends group, and they don't have access to a copier, or to something that helps them, you know, get that message out, they cannot use that copier in the library and

 

Jason Tait  39:14

That private copier in the back that's used only by library staff? They may not use. That's a good question. They have to go to Staples like everyone else.

 

Lauren Stara  39:22

What about the public copier if they pay for the copies?

 

Jason Tait  39:25

They can do that. Yup, if they use that copier and put their dimes in, like everyone else.

 

Andrea Bunker  39:30

What if they pay for the toner and the paper in that private copier?

 

Jason Tait  39:35

We still wouldn't want them using it.

 

Andrea Bunker  39:36

These are those little things that you know, you get asked for.

 

Jason Tait  39:40

Yeah, and all these rules I'm throwing at you. They're really just so that you can avoid problems down the road. So you know, you're asking people to pay higher taxes for this new library. As a library director, you don't need that controversy about "Ooh, the trustees use the copier!" It's probably a minimal amount of money, like $50 bucks or something like that, but then you're going to have that negative thing out there. And it's something you don't want when you're trying to be positive and saying, "we need this new library for our community is good for us." But then you have this negative news out there. These are like tips, you know, to avoid those situations. You know, it's gonna be hard enough to get this thing passed. You don't need these sort of negative news stories or, or stories going around your community at that time. You want to avoid those headaches, I'm sure. 

 

Andrea Bunker  40:25

Absolutely. And I feel like I've learned a lot through this conversation. Obviously, some of the questions, I feel like I went around in a circular way, because there are these nuances and working with all these different entities that form your institution of the library, it can get so confusing, and be really difficult to parse out what each entity can and cannot do, and to what capacity. So thank you! Lauren, did you have any more questions? 

 

Lauren Stara  40:53

I think the only thing that I want to make sure everybody understands is that Jason is talking about advocating and fundraising for ballot campaigns. This is not talking about advocating or fundraising for the project itself. That's an important distinction to make.

 

Andrea Bunker  41:13

And I think that's why as Jason has said, it's so important to contact the Ethics Commission as well make sure that you are not violating any of the laws that exist so that we do, just as, Jason, as you said, you're unenrolled, you stay down the middle of it that we do, too, as librarians. Is there anything else that you wanted to share with us anything else that we may have missed?

 

Jason Tait  41:37

Uh, no, other than the fact that I love going to your local libraries. When we're exploring the state, my family and I, if I see a public library, I'm probably going to ask them to stop in because I love going to the youth bookstore and each of these libraries and see if I find any treasures. I love doing that. So keep that up.

 

Andrea Bunker  41:53

And that's amazing, because then you're supporting the library

 

Jason Tait  41:56

A dollar at a time.

 

Andrea Bunker  41:58

We cannot thank you enough for your time today, Jason. Thank you for listening to all of our questions, no matter how roundabout they may have seemed, and for providing this really insightful tutorial on campaign finance law.

 

Jason Tait  42:12

Thank you! I invite anyone to send us an email if you have further questions. We have a lot of educational resources I can send you.

 

Andrea Bunker  42:19

Thank you so much. 

 

Jason Tait  42:20

You're welcome. 

 

Andrea Bunker  42:22

And thank you for tuning in. Join us next time as we explore another important topic for library building projects. Until then, be well!