|Public Resources and Ballot Questions|
In the 1978 case of Anderson v. City of Boston, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that public resources may not be used for political campaign purposes. The court found that the city's appropriation of almost $1 million for an organized effort to convince voters to support a state ballot question was prohibited by the campaign finance law, M.G.L. c.55.
Though the Anderson decision came two years before the passage of Proposition 2½, it has its most common impact in recent years in local override and debt exclusion elections. Cities and towns may not, according to Anderson, use public resources to persuade voters to support or oppose a question put to voters in an election. In addition, the state Constitution prohibits the publicly funded distribution of any information to voters concerning a ballot question without express statutory authority.
Public Resources includes anything that is paid for through public funds (taxes or fees), such as paper, postage, staff time, equipment and property.
The campaign finance law does not, however, prohibit public officials and employees from participating in the public discussion of issues, holding and attending forums and meetings, and supporting or joining ballot question committees. It also does not prohibit the use of public facilities by political groups such as ballot question committees, as long as a facility is available to all such groups under the same terms and conditions. In addition, it should be noted that the Anderson limitations apply to elections only: activities concerning town meeting only are not regulated. In the event of questions that are on both the town meeting warrant and the election ballot, however, the prohibition may apply.
OCPF has developed several publications to provide further explanation of the public resources issue. Each may be accessed by clicking on a link below.
The office has also issued several advisory opinions dealing with the public resources issue. To review the opinions, check out the "Public Resources" heading in the online Advisory Opinion index.
Officials and other parties with further questions are encouraged to contact OCPF.