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Humboldt GOP Chair challenges school notice

‘Obama campaigning’ in school announcements unethical, says Ramaekers

September 14, 2012
By BRANDON L. SUMMERS, bsummers@messengernews.net , Messenger News

HUMBOLDT - A Humboldt High School daily announcement posted online and sent to parents Monday is causing controversy.

An item titled "Obama Campaign" in the Sept. 10 announcement reads: "Students interested in learning more about the campaigning process should consider working for one of the parties. The Obama campaign is looking for students to be a part of their campaign." The announcement lists volunteer requirements and duties, including working at a phone bank and helping people register to vote.

Marla Ramaekers, a parent and Humboldt County Republican chair, charges that the announcement violates Iowa's code of ethics.

"If you look up the Iowa ethics act, that's unethical for a government entity to do that," she said Friday. "And technically, even since it says Obama campaign, it's technically an advertisement and should say 'Paid for by the Obama Campaign.'"

Ramaekers also challenged Greg Darling, Humboldt Community School District superintendent, on the announcement item.

"I've talked to quite a few people who have spoke to Greg Darling, and they feel he's sweeping it under the rug," she said.

Darling said school counselor Shelley Powers lists all available volunteer opportunities for the benefit of its students and the announcement is not a specific endorsement of any one party or candidate.

"The Democratic Party asked for volunteers and she put a notice in the high school announcements, just as the district would do for any other volunteer opportunities for other organizations and parties," he said.

He added, "Had the Republican Party or the Romney campaign made a similar request of the district, the same announcement would have been made for that party or campaign."

The district posted in its Sept. 12 announcements a notice as the first item, reading: "The Humboldt School District DOES NOT PROMOTE ONE POLITICAL PARTY OVER ANOTHER. Students are encouraged to become politically active and learn more about the democratic process. If a student would like to volunteer for a political party during this presidential election year, contact the office and we will help connect you to local or state party leadership."

Ramaekers said her objection does not come from being Humboldt County Republican chair.

"I would have stood up even if it was them for a Romney campaign," she said. "I would have stood up and said the same thing. I'm doing this as a parent."

Ramaekers said she was "completely satisfied" with the "retraction."

Even if the daily announcement did explicitly advocate a specific federal candidate, this does not violate the Iowa code of ethics.

According to Megan Tooker, Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board director and legal counsel, express advocacy of a federal candidacy or ballot issue by a public agency is not prohibited by the state code.

"Our statute is limited to expressing express advocacy of a state or subdivision office - state county, city or school board elections," she said.

Iowa Code section 68A.505 states, "(t)he state and the governing body of a county, city or other political subdivision of the state shall not expend or permit the expenditure of public moneys for political purposes, including expressly advocating the passage or defeat of a ballot issue."

Iowa administrative code section 351-5.3 broadly defines "public resources" and Iowa Code section 68A.102 (19) defines "political purpose" and (14) defines "express advocacy."

A similar issue arose in July 2011 when Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz released an official press release criticizing Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, titled, "Huntsman not ready for the big dance."

Responding to a complaint from the Iowa Democratic Party, the board found that Schultz had not violated the ethics code.

 
 

 

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