Interpretative Opinion 2016-02
October 31, 2016
Angie M. Gates, Director
Office of Cable, Film, Music and Entertainment
1899 9th Street N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20018
Lawrence N. Cooper, General Counsel
1899 9th Street N.E.
Washington, DC 20018
Dear Ms. Gates and Mr. Cooper:
This responds to your letter dated October 24, 2016, in which you requested an Expedited Interpretative Opinion regarding Activities Relating to an Advisory Ballot Referendum.
You state that the statutory responsibilities of the Office of Cable Television, Film, Music and Entertainment (OCTFME) include producing content for and managing the District’s public educational and governmental (PEG) cable channels. You additionally state that OCTFME produces a range of video presentations that highlight or support various District initiatives; or that help inform District residents of various agency and District-wide services. You further state that OCTFME has previously broadcast statehood related content for the purposes of providing information to residents and that you anticipate that the agency will receive additional requests from a variety of sources for the creation of content to support the District’s statehood initiative. You also referenced Office of Campaign Finance (OCF) Interpretative Opinion (2016-01) issued June 17, 2016, in which OCF determined that “it does not appear that any activities the New Columbia Statehood Commission intends to undertake in connection with an Advisory Ballot Referendum are within the scope of the applicable provisions of the District of Columbia Campaign Finance Act.”
D.C. Official Code §1-1163.36(a) states that: “No resources of the District of Columbia government, including, the expenditure of funds, the personal services of employees during their hours of work, and nonpersonal services, including supplies, materials, equipment, office space, facilities, telephones and other utilities, shall be used to support or oppose any candidate for elected office, whether partisan or nonpartisan, or to support or oppose any initiative, referendum, or recall measure, including a charter amendment referendum conducted in accordance with §1-203.03. ”
In the request you submitted, you appear to be seeking confirmation that OCTFME would not be in violation of the Campaign Finance Act, if members of its staff are engaged in the following activity:
A. Creation and production of program content and information aimed at educating DC residents on statehood and the Advisory Ballot Referendum, and the broadcast, distribution and/or streaming of such content across each of OCTFME's media platforms (including, but not limited to District of Columbia Council Chanel (DCC), District Knowledge Network (DKN), District of Columbia Network (DCN), the agency webpage, YouTube, FaceBook, Twitter and Instagram) on behalf of, or at the request of the DC Statehood Commission, Executive Office of the Mayor, DC Council or Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton.
B. Broadcast, distribution and/or streaming of program content and information (not created by OCTFME) aimed at educating DC residents on statehood and the Advisory Ballot Referendum across each of OCTFME's media platforms (including, but not limited to DCC, DKN, DCN, the agency webpage, YouTube, FaceBook, Twitter and Instagram) on behalf of, or at the request of the DC Statehood Commission, Executive Office of the Mayor, DC Council or Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton.
C. Creation and production of content and information aimed at educating DC residents on statehood and the Advisory Ballot Referendum using the slogan, "Create the State", and simultaneously advocating for the right to vote without use of any messages to "vote for" the Advisory Ballot Referendum.
As we indicated in the above referenced Interpretative Opinion, the activities associated with the Advisory Ballot Referendum appear to be consistent with the purposes for which the DC Statehood Commission (Commission) was established which include to “educate regarding, advocate for, promote, and advance the proposition of statehood and voting rights for the District of Columbia to District residents and citizens of the 50 states.” Further, the Commission is authorized, pursuant to D.C. Official Code §1-129.31, to solicit contributions, both financial and in-kind, from public and private sources to be deposited in the New Columbia Statehood Fund, established pursuant to §1-129.32, and used for the purposes of promoting statehood and voting rights. The administration of the Fund, and the audit of its records and expenses is governed by D.C. Official Code §1-129.32.
Based upon the information you have provided, using OCTFME as the vehicle through which the creation of content and information designed to educate District residents regarding statehood and the Advisory Ballot Referendum, and to broadcast and or stream content not created by OCTFME to residents on behalf of the DC Statehood Commission, Executive Office of the Mayor, DC Council or Congresswoman Norton, does not appear to violate the Campaign Finance Act. However, we would caution you that the use of the slogan, ”Create the State”, could be interpreted as advocacy for statehood as opposed to educating residents.
Therefore, it would be more appropriate to present the slogan as a question, “Create the State?” as opposed to a declaratory statement. Similarly, your assertion that the content will be simultaneously advocating for the right to vote could also be interpreted as advocacy in favor of the statehood initiative. Thus, advocating in favor of exercising the right to vote would denote a principle that is universally accepted as opposed to a proposition that could stimulate a debate.
The foregoing is an Interpretative Opinion of the Director of the Office of Campaign Finance. Pursuant to D.C. Official Code §1-1163.06, you are entitled to request an Advisory Opinion from the Board of Elections on this transaction or activity.
Should you have any additional questions, please contact William O. SanFord, General Counsel, at (202) 671-0549.