Thursday, July 13, 2006
Contract With City Does Not Bar Political Activity by Local Chamber of Commerce—Lockyer
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A local chamber of commerce cannot be prohibited from placing a political campaign sign on its headquarters merely because the property is rented from the city and the chamber has a contract to act as the city’s visitors’ bureau, Attorney General Bill Lockyer has opined.
“[T]he chamber of commerce is not a creation of the city and is not governed by the city; it is staffed with its own employees rather than city employees,” Lockyer explained.
“The chamber’s use of its funds and resources to advertise in support of ballot measures or candidates for public office cannot be said to constitute the use of public funds or resources. Under these circumstances, we believe that the city may not prohibit the chamber from posting its messages on its sign under the authority of [Government Code] section 54964, subdivision (a) or any other provision of law,” he said.
Sec. 54964(a) bars the use of public funds to aid or oppose a political campaign.
Lockyer, who issued the opinion in response to a request by Assemblywoman Bonnie Garcia, R-Cathedral City, cited two opinions by predecessor attorneys general.
One opinion concluded that an “auxiliary” organization aligned with a community college district could advocate the passage of the district’s bond measure, using the group’s own funds, even though the district helped establish the group and exercised financial oversight. The other concluded that a nonprofit group that was promoting tourism and commerce under a county contract that provided most of its revenue was not performing a county “function” reviewable by the grand jury.
A different result might obtain, Lockyer said, if the lease governing the chamber headquarters property or its city contract contained specific language with respect to political advertising on the premises.
“Changing the terms of the lease or contract would, of course, be subject to negotiation between the parties,” the attorney general wrote.
He added that it would be improper for the chamber to advertise its position in such a way as to mislead the public into thinking that the city was funding the advertisement or endorsing the chamber position.
The opinion, No. 05-603, was prepared for Lockyer by Deputy Attorney General Daniel G. Stone.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company