August 12, 2019
By Jon Riches
Arizona law wisely prohibits politicians and government bureaucrats from using your taxpayer dollars to advocate for their preferred outcome in an election. Yet government officials in this state continue to ignore these laws on ballot questions in upcoming elections. Even more troubling, government employees are weighing in on voter initiatives that seek to limit their authority and the growth of government programs they oversee.
In other words, those who are elected or appointed to represent us are instead using our tax dollars to advance policy positions that they have a vested financial interest in.
As we wrote about here, Valley Metro has used tax dollars to publicly advocate for the defeat of a ballot measure that would stop the expansion of the light rail and direct those dollars to other transportation needs. That’s a clear misuse of taxpayer resources (and it’s why we sent a letter to Valley Metro challenging their actions).
And now leaders in Bullhead City are doing the same—perhaps even more brazenly—asking voters to support Proposition 415, which would authorize the city to acquire by eminent domain private water utilities that the city would then own and operate. To assist in its efforts for this government grab, city leaders, including the Mayor, have made extensive use of city resources to influence the election.
Remarkably, Bullhead City Mayor Tom Brady (no relation to the perennial Patriots quarterback), told voters at a July 16, 2019 City Council meeting:
I hope that the voters will see through all of EPCOR’s [EPCOR Water] propaganda and greed and allow us to move forward with this acquisition. So, this evening I will be voting yes on this item and I hope the citizens who trust my research and my judgment will do the same when they vote in November (emphasis added).
The city placed posts on its official Facebook page “asking voters to approve funding to acquire EPCOR water systems.” And the city has also put out press releases, purchased billboards, and even used city utility bills to influence public opinion regarding Proposition 415.
Arizona law could not be plainer on the illegality of the city’s actions: “A city or town shall not spend or use its resources, including the use or expenditure of monies, accounts, credit, facilities, vehicles, postage, telecommunications, computer hardware and software, web pages, personnel, equipment, materials, buildings or any other thing of value of the city or town, for the purpose of influencing the outcomes of elections.” Arizona law does not permit government officials or employees to use our tax dollars to support their preferred outcome of an election. These laws are particularly important when the election deals precisely with the size and scope of government power and authority, as the Valley Metro and Bullhead City cases make plain.
Leaders at both Valley Metro and Bullhead City should immediately stop utilizing public resources to advocate for their preferred policy positions and get back to the business of administering their offices or agencies, rather than electioneering from them.
Jon Riches is the Director of National Litigation at the Goldwater Institute.