CAN A REFRIGERATOR MAGNET LAND YOU IN JAIL?
Maybe. And, no, this isn’t a joke. On November 29, the Texas Ethics Commission issued an opinion (Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 506) regarding whether a city councilmember’s refrigerator magnet, paid for with city funds, constitutes political advertising. The commission concluded that the magnet is self-promotion of a public officer and thus is prohibited political advertising.
In reaching its conclusion, the commission focused on the facts that: (1) the name and photo of the public officer “appear in an unduly conspicuous way;” and (2) the magnet includes a list of the public officer’s priorities. The opinion, including an image of the magnet at issue, is available at http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/opinions/506.html.
A violation of Election Code Section 255.003’s prohibition against a city officer or employee knowingly spending or authorizing the expenditure of public funds for political advertising can be prosecuted as a class A misdemeanor. A violation may also result in the imposition of a civil fine by the commission.
The League urges city officials to consult local legal counsel with questions about whether any of a city’s communications (including, unbelievably, refrigerator magnets) constitute political advertising.