Complaint: by Zipparo
In general, Connecticut General Statutes §9-369b(a) prohibits expenditures of state or municipal funds to influence any person to vote to approve or to disapprove a referendum. Allegedly, the superintendent of schools and the chair of the Redding Board of Education authorized the expenditure of $1,480 in municipal funds for the production and distribution of a publication titled, "Commitment to Academic Excellence, A Guide to the 2013-2014 Operating Budget Request for Redding Elementary School and John Read Middle School." The budget guide stated, "Last year’s budget request of 1.32% (or $282,008) was supported and approved by Redding voters." It added, "Historically, this is the lowest budget proposal in over 10 years and the second lowest compared to other districts." The budget guide included highlights of educational excellence in Redding and a comparison to other districts. Although a referendum on the board of education’s annual budget remained undecided, the respondents denied that the budget guide included "advocacy," in violation of C.G.S. §9-369b(a). The statute provides, "Except as provided in subsection (d) of this section, no 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." Communications that urge a particular result, either by express wording of advocacy or when considered as a whole, would make the ordinary reasonable person believe that a particular result is urged, constitute "advocacy." Threats of program cuts and dire consequences, as well as statements of need and justification may constitute "advocacy." Here, the language in the budget guide raised concerns about whether a public expenditure was made to advocate a position on a pending referendum, in violation of §9-369b(a). The State Elections Enforcement Commission ordered the respondents to comply strictly with C.G.S. §9-369b(a) in the future. Anthony Shannon represented the superintendent of schools and the chair of the board of education. Michael Brandi represented the State Elections Enforcement Commission.