Jan 9 2014

New Law Prohibits Use of Public Resources for Political Advocacy

Non-profit organizations’ use of City Hall, public schools and other public facilities for ballot measure advocacy and partisan campaigns are no longer allowed.

On January 1, 2014 SB 594 came into effect in California and may create hurdles for non-profit organizations across the state and in Piedmont.  Sections 54964.5 and 54964.6 of the California Code were approved by the Governor on October 12, 2013. The new law prohibits non-profit organizations from using the property of local governments in their advocacy of candidates or ballot measures.

According municipal law consultant BB&K:

“SB 594, which takes effect on January 1, 2014, prohibits nonprofit organizations from using “public resources” in any communications that expressly advocate for or against a state or local ballot measure, or for the election or defeat of a candidate, or that constitutes a campaign contribution.”

The law defines “public resources” as:

“Any property or asset owned by a local agency, including, but not limited to, cash, land, buildings, facilities, funds, equipment, supplies, telephones, computers, vehicles, travel, and local government compensated time that is provided to a nonprofit organization.”

Piedmont is in the practice of allowing organizations advocating for ballot measures to use public facilities for promoting ballot measures, including partisan forums and programs.  The City has videoed these forums, programs and meetings and allowed use of the City website as a communication vehicle. 

Editors’ Note:  The Piedmont Civic Association (PCA) does not support or oppose candidates for public office or ballot measures.  

4 Responses to “New Law Prohibits Use of Public Resources for Political Advocacy”

  1. Is there no exception in the law for use of public facilities to host voter information events, such as last night’s LWV forum? As long as both sides are there to advocate for and against a ballot measure, what’s the harm with using City Hall?

  2. I support this change. For far too long, public resources have been used and abused in support of anything that spends taxpayer dollars in Piedmont!

  3. Garrett: I do not think SB 594 would extend to LWV’s forums, though I suspect that LWV has a better analysis. The bill provides:

    54964.5. (a) A nonprofit organization or an officer, employee, or agent of a nonprofit organization shall not use, or permit another to use, public resources, received from any local agency for any campaign activity not authorized by law.

    (2) “Campaign activity” means a payment that is used for communications that expressly advocate for or against the qualification of a clearly identified ballot measure, the approval or rejection of a clearly identified ballot measure, or the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate by the voters, or that constitutes a campaign contribution.

    LWV, assuming it is a covered nonprofit, which I do not know, does not advocate for or against positions by providing a forum for debates. Nor does sponsoring a debate constitute a “payment” for any of the listed items.

    Moreover, SB 594 further provides:

    (c) This section does not prohibit the use of public resources for providing information to the public about the possible effects of any ballot measure on the activities, operations, or policies of the state or a local agency, provided that the informational activities meet both of the following conditions:
    (1) The informational activities are not otherwise prohibited by the California Constitution or the laws of this state.
    (2) The information provided constitutes an accurate, fair, and impartial presentation of relevant facts to aid the electorate in reaching an informed judgment regarding the ballot measure.

    Even if only one person provides information to the public on a topic, that is not barred by SB 594 even if sponsoring a forum where such information is provided could be deemed a “payment,” which seems a stretch.

    If anyone has more direct analysis of SB 594’s application to LWV’s forums, I’d be interested in seeing it.

  4. Thanks Rick – I appreciate having a lawyer interpret the law rather than me. So it’s not that non-profits can’t use public resources, it a question of how they use them. Non-profits can’t use public resources to “expressly advocate” which I thought was already the law. The sections you cite mostly references ballot measures – what about candidates? For example, as long as a non-profit organization sponsors an informational event on candidates for elected office and only one candidate chooses to show up, could the non-profit still use public resources for the event?

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