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U.S. District Court accepts agreement between state, local governments

U.S. District Judge John Corbett O’Meara has accepted an agreement between the Secretary of State’s office and local governments and school groups, permanently enjoining Secretary of State Ruth Johnson from enforcing Section 57(3) of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act, a law passed in December that prevented local officials from providing factual information on local ballot proposals. Enacted in PA 269 of 2015, Section 57(3) was essentially a “gag order,” severely restricting how local officials could communicate with their residents about local ballot initiatives.

O’Meara’s order, entered on April 28, referenced his previous temporary injunction against enforcement of the law, saying that the local governments had “demonstrated a strong likelihood of success on the merits of their claim that (the law) is unconstitutionally vague and thus void.” The order does not preclude a future amendment to the Michigan Campaign Finance Act.

MTA's Executive Director Larry Merrill said, “This consent judgment will allow townships and all local governments to do their proper duty—without fear of prosecution—of ensuring voters have the necessary knowledge to make informed decisions regarding local ballot measures.  A well-informed citizenry is at the heart of democracy and voters deserve clear, factual information about the issues that impact their community. Any legislative attempts to muzzle local officials’ ability to provide impartial information to their voters does not serve the public interest.”

The gag order was part of a larger campaign finance bill that passed the Legislature with little debate in the final days of last year’s legislative session and was signed by Gov. Rick Snyder, becoming Public Act 269 of 2015.

MTA is part of the coalition that filed the lawsuit on behalf of 17 local government and school officials and one private citizen halt the new law (PA 269) that severely restricts how local officials can communicate with their residents about local ballot proposals. Read the coalition's news release about the consent agreement here.