A Birmingham resident filed two campaign election complaints against Clinton Baller and his political action committee, Balance For Birmingham, and Brad Host and his political action committee, Citizens for Responsible Government, pointing out their signage and printed materials – opposing passage of the August ballot issue in the city on bonding for a parking structure – had improper funding notations in violation of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act.
Jay Shell filed the two complaints with the Michigan Secretary of State's office on Monday, July 8. On Wednesday, July 10, Mike Doyle, spokesperson for the secretary of state office, stated they had received the complaints and have five days from receipt to determine if they warrant an investigation.
In his complaint, Shell stated that lawns signs dispersed by Citizens For Responsible Government stating “Vote NO August 6 special election ” fail to contain the required phrase paid for “with regulated funds,” nor does it state “paid for by,” or the person who is paying for the sign, which are violations of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act.
According to the Michigan Campaign Finance Act, the website address, which is on the sign, does not satisfy the requirements outlined in law or nullify the violations on the sign.
Further, in his complaint Shell stated that the website birminghamcitizens.com “fails to contain the required phrase 'with regulated funds.' The website does not say 'paid for by,'” both of which are campaign finance law violations.
In Shell's complaint against Balance For Birmingham, he explained the filing was due to the failure of a four-page mailer to residents of Birmingham to contain the required phrase “with regulated funds.”
Also on July 8, Baller had filed a complaint with the secretary of state elections division requesting an expedited review, alleging the city had crossed a line and is advocating for the passage of the August parking bond proposal after the city produced a printed and online piece clarifying misinformation being circulated by opponents of the parking bond proposal.
City manager Joe Valentine said it was an educational newsletter to provide residents with factual information, which is permitted by law. The city's corporate counsel had also reviewed the newsletter before printing to make sure it complied with state campaign law.
The secretary of state's office acknowledged receipt of Baller's complaint, but declined to expedite it. Doyle responded on Tuesday, July 9, that they had received Baller's complaint, and have five business days to determine if it warrants an investigation. If it does, Doyle explained, the Campaign Finance Act does not permit them to give preferential treatment to one case over anything else, so it would be investigated in the order it was received.
If Baller and/or Host are found to be in violation of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act, section 169.247, they would be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by not more than $1,000 or imprisonment by not more than 93 days, or both.
If the city of Birmingham is found to be in violation of section 57 of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act, because it is not an individual, the penalty would be a fine of not more than $20,000 or a fine equal to the amount of the improper contribution or expenditure, whichever is greater.
The vote on August 6 is to permit the city to obtain up to $57.4 million in general obligation bonds – a municipality is required by state law to receive approval of its voters before obtaining such bonds. Although the city could have used revenue bonds to fund the project, which don't require a vote of the electorate, the city chose the general obligation bond route because the bond interest rate was more attractive and historically the city has followed this route on all of its parking structures.
If the vote fails, the whole project will be dead, according to city officials, including the pending adjacent RH (Restoration Hardware) project.