Several readers asked whether a recent fundraiser hosted by the “Denton County Commissioners Court” was appropriate. The campaign to reelect Denton County Commissioner Hugh Coleman sent out electronic invitations to an event at the North Texas Fairgrounds being hosted by all three other commissioners — Ron Marchant, Dianne Edmondson and Bobbie Mitchell — and County Judge Andy Eads.
The Texas Ethics Commission, a state agency, administers state rules and regulations for campaigns. State law is clear that government resources cannot be used for political campaigns. For example, a government employee cannot use an office computer to do volunteer campaign work. But the rules and regulations also permit government officials to participate in campaigns. For example, a government official can tap their own campaign war chest to donate to another candidate. Money given to one official’s reelection campaign can, and occasionally does, end up in another candidate’s coffers.
In June, the commission issued an advisory opinion on whether a public officer may use government resources for political advertising in certain ways after being asked many times about the topic. For example, could an elected official film a campaign video in their government office?
The advisory opinion outlines the criteria that the agency would use to test whether the use was permissible: Essentially, any government resource available to the general public would also be available to the officeholder. To return to the previous example, then, a video shot inside the official’s private office would not be permissible, but a video shot outside the office building could be.
The commission makes such final determinations, which only follow a formal complaint.
Coleman said a volunteer set up the original invitation using an electronic invitation service and there wasn’t room in the host field to list all the individual commissioners’ names. In response to concerns, he went back into the service to delete the word “court” from the collective description.
— Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe
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