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End govt preferences bias in electioneering

It’s time for Louisiana to make campaigns concerning ballot propositions more impartial, taking away a bias that favors government preferences.

State law does not address how local governments may involve themselves in elections such as on taxation matters. Nor does it require local governments to regulate electioneering; some, like Bossier Parish, put matters like legal placement of campaign signs in a Unified Development Code or elsewhere in their code of ordinances.

Livingston Parish does not, making no mention of the issue at all. That’s why a sign has appeared on Walker High School property visible to traffic concerning an “OPERATIONS FUNDING RENEWAL” for “Livingston Parish Public Schools” asking viewers to “VOTE October 14,” and, for those not swift on the uptake, reiterates that “This is NOT a new tax!”

It does not explicitly urge voting affirmatively for this 7.18 mill renewal for 10 years, but it certainly implies that the onlooker should. It imparts that many homeowners already do and suggests a vote against may adversely impact the “operations” of public schools. No doubt the signage, apparently paid for by the Livingston Parish School District (it does not appear to have any language identifying the sponsor), the district would justify as a tool of information for voters.

In the same vein, the Jefferson Parish School Board recently hired a public relations firm to help “educate” voters regarding its Nov. 18 8.45 mill new tax request to fund higher salaries. It can’t spend the $75,000 on advocacy, but undoubtedly the winning firm in its lobbying can follow the Livingston Parish example by providing as loaded language as possible without actually asking for a vote of yea.

Obviously, this behavior becomes self-serving. Governments endlessly want more money so elected officials can have more power and do more things that encourage their own reelections. It’s no accident that local governments, having voted on putting tax propositions on a ballot, have never met one they didn’t like.

In order for it to maintain the people’s trust, government must bend over backwards to make sure any of its communications regarding a ballot proposition remain absolutely neutral, involving taxes or other matters. Therefore, a state law that mandates in the case of a governmental entity any such paid communications list for tax matters only the election date, amount, and duration, on in the case of a matter not related to taxes the election date and title assigned by the Secretary of State, along with who pays for the message in both instances. Further, signs dedicated to these efforts could not appear on any government property of any kind.

Governments still would have plenty of opportunities to give more extensive explanations of such measures. Citizen interest groups could solicit their officials’ knowledge for their own unaffiliated disseminations, the media can interview government representatives, and government can send emissaries to local groups to speak about the items – in all instances, of course, not conveying a preference to vote for or against any.

This kind of regime does a better job of parsing out politicized, self-interested viewpoints while allowing sufficient information to flow about an election, as well as saving taxpayer dollars that now go to disguised efforts to pass propositions. State elected officials should ensure passage of such a law at the first opportunity.

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