Complaint by: Ruhe
An e-mail message that is neutral and that directs voters to a Web site that relies on public funds and that advocates a particular position on a referendum can violate the prohibition in Connecticut General Statutes §9-369b against the use of municipal funds to influence citizens to vote in favor of a referendum. George Ruhe filed a complaint against Superintendent of Schools Michael Emmett, alleging that Emmett's school district used town funds to advocate the approval of a referendum. An e-mail to voters stated, "All registered voters will be casting ballots . . . on the Wethersfield High School Renovation Bond Referendum. All polling places will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m." The e-mail included links to the public school's Web site. C.G.S. §9-369(b) provides, "[N]o expenditure of state or municipal funds shall be made to influence any person to vote for approval or disapproval of any such proposal or question." Costs that are associated with a Web site or a server that is maintained by the public schools may qualify as an expenditure of public funds, pursuant to §9-369(b). Public funds were used to maintain the Web site, which contained information that advocated in favor of the referendum. Although the message itself did not advocate a position, the Web site created by the public schools included advocacy materials. "[T]he electronic mail message of April 24, 2012, which notified certain Wethersfield residents of the referendum vote and, more importantly, referred them to the school system's website that included material advocating for the high-school-building project that was the subject of the referendum," wrote the State Elections Enforcement Commission, "violated General Statutes §9-369b's ban on the use of public funds to influence the outcome of a referendum question." The commission ordered Superintendent Emmett to comply with C.G.S. §9-369b in the future.