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Election season reminder: public funds may not be used to advocate for or support a candidate or bal

Cities must be cognizant not to use public funds to “advocate, support or oppose” a candidate or ballot measure. See Section 115.646 RSMo. If this statute is violated, fines may be imposed and, in some circumstances, the election may even be declared void. The “[d]issemination of purely factual information which does not ‘advocate,’ ‘support’ or ‘oppose’ a ballot measure. . .” does not violate this statutory provision, and courts and the Missouri Ethics Commission will look to factors including the style, tenor, and timing of the communication in determining whether the prohibition is violated. See State v. Campbell, 938 S.W.2d 640, 644 (Mo. App. 1997). The Missouri Ethics Commission recently ruled that the statute was violated where public funds were used to publish newspaper ads with phrases that characterized a “yes” vote on a ballot proposition as “fair” and a “no” vote as “unfair.” The Commission concluded those phrases supported the ballot measure. The Commission also found that a brochure impermissibly “urged voter action” by using phrases such as “keep business” in the city, and “support” the city’s economy by voting for the proposition. The Missouri Ethics Commission found all of these expenditures to be improper.

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