Image: While groups such as the Children’s Hope PAC and the Texas Patriots PAC must operate from private donations and comply with the Texas Election Code, Conroe Independent School District used more than $75,000 of your tax dollars to finance a mailer advocating passage of the school district’s $807 million bond and tax hike. CISD’s Board of Trustees never approved the expenditure.
Conroe, April 21 – The Conroe Independent School District (CISD) spent more than $95,000 to send a four-page color pro-$807 million bond mailer to homes in the CISD’s geographic boundaries. The mailer crosses the line into violations of Chapter 255 of the Texas Election Code and utilizes taxpayer dollars to propagandize and campaign against citizen interests.
The Golden Hammer has confirmed, both by examining Board of Trustee minutes and by confirming with two individuals inside of the school district who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal, that CISD’s Board of Trustees never approved the expenditure of public tax dollars for the expensive mailer. This newspaper interviewed individuals with the Freedom and Liberty Conservatives PAC, a local grassroots conservative organization with expertise in direct-mail campaigns, who confirmed CISD spent just under $100,000 for the four-page color mailer and bulk postage.
Texas Election Code Section 255.003 provides in part:
Sec. 255.003. UNLAWFUL USE OF PUBLIC FUNDS FOR POLITICAL ADVERTISING. (a) An officer or employee of a political subdivision may not knowingly spend or authorize the spending of public funds for political advertising.
(b) Subsection (a) does not apply to a communication that factually describes the purposes of a measure if the communication does not advocate passage or defeat of the measure.
(b-1) An officer or employee of a political subdivision may not spend or authorize the spending of public funds for a communication describing a measure if the communication contains information that:
(1) the officer or employee knows is false; and
(2) is sufficiently substantial and important as to be reasonably likely to influence a voter to vote for or against the measure.
(c) A person who violates Subsection (a) or (b-1) commits an offense. An offense under this section is a Class A misdemeanor.
The Texas Ethics Commission has rendered a number of opinions concerning what statements in political mailers constitute unlawful “advocacy.” A number of statements in the CISD’s mailer easily cross the line and constitute violations of the Texas Election Code:
- The Texas Ethics Commission provided an example of a communication which is illegal, “The [School District] and Board of Trustees believe this rate increase is vitally important.” In a section entitled “Overview,” CISD improperly stated in the pro-bond mailer “At their January 15, 2019, meeting, the Board of Trustees approved an $807 million bond referendum…”
- Section 255.003 prohibits information “that…the officer or employee [of the school district] knows is false…” The mailer false tricks voters into believing that the only tax increase would be a 3 cent tax rate increase when, in fact, CISD deep inside of its website has made clear CISD voters should expect a 61.7% tax increase during the next 10 years, if the bond referendum passes, as a result of increases in both the tax rate and property tax appraisals, which CISD will push through the Appraisal District Board of Directors, which CISD controls.
- Under “Growth & Sustainability” CISD claims that those expenditures are to “invest in safety and security improvements” when, in fact, they have nothing whatsoever to do with safety and security, which are a different section of expenditures under the $807 million bond package altogether.
- The descriptions under “District-Wide Facility & Transportation Needs” include a phrase, “To address operational and infrastructure needs associated with growth and facility age,” which, under the Texas Ethics Commission’s opinions cross the line into unlawful advocacy.
- The statement under “New Schools” “to address projected enrollment growth” is a knowingly false statement, because CISD had made clear that they’re aware no new construction will be necessary for projected enrollment growth at least through 2028.
- The statement under “Safety and Security” that “projects at all Conroe ISD campuses” is a knowingly false statement, because Null and CISD have made clear openly that they do not yet know what, if any, safety and security projects they actually intend to implement.
- The mailer encourages recipients to “scan to visit” to link to CISD’s full bond advocacy website which is full of mis-information and political advocacy.
Ultimately, however, the problem, which CISD’s mailer raises, is not a legal technicality. Rather, spending enormous sums of taxpayer dollars in order to influence a political campaign over a proposed bond referendum and tax hike is just plain wrong. Government entities should never advertise before a bond election.
CISD’s bureaucrats without any authority from the Board of Trustees have chosen to spend a fortune of tax dollars which, rather than paying for political propaganda, should have gone for the education of children in this community.