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.


TML member cities may use the material herein for any purpose. No other person or entity may reproduce, duplicate, or distribute any part of this document without the written authorization of the Texas Municipal League.

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