The Michigan Secretary of State's office found Clinton Baller and his political action committee (PAC), Balance for Birmingham, has violated MCL 169.247 of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act (MCFA) by failing to include a complete and correct identification statement on certain campaign-related materials opposing the August ballot issue on bonds for a new Birmingham parking structure, but dismissed without prejudice a complaint against Brad Host and Citizens for Responsible Government, as the images supplied of the presumed items in violation were illegible.
Birmingham resident Jay Shell filed the two complaints with the Secretary of State's office on Monday, July 8. 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.”
Adam Fracassi, election law specialist, Bureau of Elections, Michigan Department of State, informed Baller, in response to Shell's complaint, on Tuesday, July 16, “'Upon review, the evidence submitted supports the conclusion that a potential violation of the Act has occurred… The mailer specifically urges voters to “VOTE NO, and tell Birmingham to start over, and do it right.' Because it urges voters to vote against the passage of a ballot question using words of express advocacy, the flyer is covered by the gambit of the Act and must include the paid for by statement outlined… Although the mailer contains a paid for by statement, the phrase “with regulated funds” has been omitted entirely. Since this phrase is absent, the evidence supports the conclusion that a potential violation has occurred.”
A violation of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act, section 169.247 is a misdemeanor, and Baller could have received a fine of up to $1,000 or imprisonment of up to 93 days, or both. However Fracassi wrote that “the Department concludes that a formal warning is a sufficient resolution to the complaint and is hereby advising you that MCL 169.247(1) and R 169.36(2) require you to print a complete and accurate identification statement on all campaign materials, consisting of the phrase 'paid for by' followed by the full name and address of your committee and the phrase 'with regulated funds.'”
In his second complaint, Shell stated that lawns signs dispersed by Citizens For Responsible Government stating “Vote NO August 6 special election ” failed to contain the required phrase “with regulated funds,” nor did they state “Paid for by,” or the person who is paying for the sign, which are violations of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act.
However Fracassi, responding to Shell on Tuesday, July 16, said that “the statement at the bottom of the yard sign is illegible... because that text is illegible, the Department cannot make a determination as to whether it is a paid for by statement that complies with the Act.”
Fracassi said in his letter a clearer image could be resubmitted with Shell's complaint.
This is not the first time Baller has tried to intercede with the bond proposal vote after Birmingham city commissioners approved a resolution to put a parking structure bond proposal in the amount of $57.4 million before voters on the August 6 election at their meeting on May 6, in order to secure financing for demolition and rebuilding of a new parking structure to replace the N. Old Woodward structure and an extension of Bates Street, the first phase of what is known as the Woodward Bates project. On June 12, the city's ethics board heard – and unanimously dismissed – two complaints from Baller against city manager Joe Valentine and mayor Patty Bordman, over their involvement with winning bids and proposals for the new N. Old Woodward Bates project which will involve several mixed use buildings, including an adjacent RH (Restoration Hardware) building.
Baller had also filed a complaint with the Michigan Department of State Bureau of Elections alleging the city of Birmingham had violated state campaign laws by using public tax dollars to advocate for passage of the August parking bond ballot issue in a city-produced printed piece clarifying mistruths perpetuated by opponents of the parking bond proposal, which was dismissed by the state on Friday, July 12. In its dismissal, Fracassi wrote Baller that none of the city of Birmingham's communication advocated for a vote, thereby not violating the MCFA.
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. Birmingham chose general obligation bonds because that has been the past practice when financing parking structures in the city and interest rates are marginally lower than revenue bonds, which do not require a vote. The general obligation bonds will be retired with city parking fund reserves and revenues from the parking system.
If the parking bond vote fails, the whole project will be dead, according to city officials, including the proposed RH building, as they do not anticipate re-opening the bidding process.