Democracy
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School Board should obey election laws

School Board should obey election laws

Testimony by FCTA's Arthur Purves to the School Board
Public Hearing on the Capital Improvement Plan - January 16, 2007

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Board:

In the upcoming school bond referendum, please obey election laws.

The Virginia State Board of Elections requires organizations that spend over $1000 to influence a referendum in a single city or county to register as a referendum committee.

For the 2003 school bond referendum, Fairfax County Citizens for School Bonds did indeed register as a referendum committee. However, the committee submitted incorrect reports and was assessed fines by the State Board of Elections.

By the 2005 school bond referendum, Fairfax County Citizens for School Bonds had not paid its fines and was therefore not legally registered as a referendum committee. Nevertheless, in violation of election law, Fairfax County Citizens for the Bond Referendum still campaigned for the referendum and printed and distributed signs and pamphlets. It did file some campaign finance reports. Curiously, the only reported expenditure as of October 26, two weeks before the election, was $65 for web hosting.

The April 2006 report shows $1400 of debts owed to two school system employees who had been working for the referendum committee. The next report, dated July 2006, shows one expenditure of $750 for civil penalties, and the $1400 debt is missing. The next report, dated October 2006, shows a $1900 "reimbursement" to the Fairfax County Public Schools. There is no indication what the reimbursement is for; perhaps it covered the $1400 owed to the two school system employees. There are $2000 of previously-unidentified contributions in the beginning balance of the October 2005 report.

At this hearing two years ago, a school board member stated that the "Bond Referendum Facts" pamphlet was paid for privately. However, the finance reports show no expenditure for pamphlets.

Let us assume that the board member is correct and that the "Bond Referendum Facts" pamphlet was paid for by the referendum committee, whose purpose was to urge the approval of more bonds. The school system posted a pdf file of the pamphlet on the schools' website. When I requested that the schools also post a much shorter statement opposing the referendum, my request was, of course, ignored.

It is not right to use tax-funded resources to campaign for a bond referendum and then not provide equal time to the opposing view. The opposing view, by the way, is that capital improvements should not be financed from bond sales since each year the county spends more on debt service than it receives from bond sales.

I am pleased that the Citizens for School Bonds did pay the $750 in civil fines it owed the State Board of Elections. I hope that the campaign finance disclosure reports will be corrected soon. I also hope that the school system pays more attention to detail in its capital and instructional programs than it apparently does to obeying campaign finance laws.

Thank you.