Identification Statement Required on Election-Related Communications

Recent changes to Section 47 of Michigan’s Cam­paign Finance Act require a communication (e.g., telephone call or television commercial) that refer­ences an election, candidate, or ballot question to contain a conspicuous statement identifying the per­son paying for the communication in certain circum­stances.

Under prior law, only a communication contain­ing express words of advocacy, such as “vote for,” “elect,” “cast your ballot for,” and “vote against,” was required to contain an identification statement. The amendments now require a communication without express words of advocacy to nevertheless contain an identification statement if the communication:

  1. references a clearly identified candidate or ballot question;
  2. is disseminated within 60 days of a general election in which the candidate or ballot question appears on the ballot or is dissemi­nated within 30 days of a primary election in which the candidate or ballot question ap­pears on the ballot;
  3. targets the relevant electorate (i.e., the elec­toral district where the electors may vote on the candidate or ballot question); and
  4. is disseminated by radio, television, mass mailing, or prerecorded telephone message.

If a school district’s factual communications con­cerning bond and millage proposals meet the above criteria, the district must place an identification statement on the communication.

The content of the identification statement dif­fers depending on the communication media. Printed material required to contain an identification state­ment must bear the name and address of the person or entity paying for the material. The Secretary of State’s Ballot Question Committee Manual states that certain various small items (such as buttons), the size of which makes placement of an identification state­ment unreasonable, are not required to contain an identification statement. Prerecorded telephone mes­sages and robocalls must state the name, address, and telephone number of the person or entity paying for the message. Radio or television advertisements must identify the person or entity paying for the adver­tisement and comply with FCC regulations.

If the criteria referenced above are satisfied, the Section 47 amendments may require a school district to identify itself in its dissemination of factual infor­mation concerning bond and millage proposals. While the new requirement only applies to a com­munication disseminated within 60 days of a “general election” or within 30 days of a “primary election,” general or primary elections occasionally may be called on dates not normally considered “general” or “primary” election dates. School districts that have ballot propositions on May 6, 2014, however, should not be concerned about Section 47 because that date is neither a “general” or “primary” election. We have always recommended that our clients provide elec­tion-related materials to their Thrun election attor­ney for review. We now recommend that our clients contact their Thrun election attorney before omitting an identification statement, regardless of the election date, or consider including the identifying language in any election-related material.