Public Funds Cannot be Used to Advocate for One Side of a Ballot Question

On October 27, 2020, the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office (the AG) reiterated and updated its long-standing position that local government public funds cannot be used to advocate for one side of a ballot question.

Asked whether city officials may use written communication like email and social media to advocate for one side of a ballot question, the AG responded with an opinion that if a city or its officials use public funds to advocate for only one side of a ballot question, “then the expenditure is unlawful and against public policy.” The AG added, “[t]he answer turns on whether the [city] is expending public funds to create, maintain, and use its email and social media accounts, which is a factual determination.”

The AG quoted an Office of the State Auditor (OSA) Statement of Position, which stated “it has been generally recognized that elected officials may appear before citizens to orally advocate for a particular position as long as no expenditure of public funds is involved.” (Emphasis added by the AG.)

As further noted in the OSA Statement of Position, complaints alleging a local government has advocated passage without proper reporting or has disseminated false campaign material are filed with the Office of Administrative Hearings pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 211B.32.

The new Attorney General Opinion is available here:

The quoted OSA Statement of Position, “Expenditure of Public Funds on Ballot Issue Advocacy”, is available here.

Date this Avoiding Pitfall was most recently published: 10/30/2020