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Bond election signs illegal

Officials say paid-for-by information, along with address, is mandatory

February 16, 2011 - By Laura Colvin

Review editor

The signs are simple: "Orion Schools Bond Feb. 22. Vote No."

A little too simple, in fact. The signs are illegal.

That's the word from Oakland County Elections Director Joe Rozell, who said all campaign signs, whether for a ballot issue - such as the upcoming Lake Orion Community Schools' bond election - or for a candidate, are required to contain two pieces of information.

"Signs have to indicate who paid for them, and the address," said Rozell, noting the rules apply whether a sign is placed on public or private property. "A sign is a sign regardless of where it's posted."

So if a group spent money to oppose or support the issue, he explained, that group is required to formally form a committee within 10 days, then register that committee with the county with within another 10 days of initial expenditures.

If they don't?

"Then someone can file a complaint with the Secretary of State's Office," Rozell said. "There's a complaint form on their website, and they will investigate that."

A committee must be formed when a group spends, or plans to spend $500 or more. But there's no exemption for a group or person who spends less.

"If they're thinking they're not going to meet the $500 threshold, the signs would be what are considered 'independent expenditures,'" Rozell said. "They're still required to list who paid for it - the individual - and still required to file an independent expenditure form with our office. Simply spending under $500 does not exempt someone from having to report who paid for that expenditure."

Rumors around Lake Orion suggested sign-posters defended their campaign by claiming they received the OK from officials in Orion Township and Oakland County.

But Rozell said his office had not given the OK for any signs.

"There's no provision in the law for us to review or clear anything," he said. "What gets put on political signs and what gets put on campaign literature is nothing the county or the township, for that matter, would have any role in reviewing or approving. The only thing we tell people if they call in is 'You have to list the requirements: who paid for the sign and the address (of the individual or committee). That's the only thing we would give guidance on."

Illegal or not, Rozell also said no one really has authority to take the signs down unless the pose a hazard.

"The Supreme Court has really restricted the ability of local units to regulate these because they are a form of free speech," he said. "However, a township or city could remove the signs if they are in the road right of way, posing a traffic hazard."

Lake Orion Review Editor
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