Q&A: School referendum ads


From The Madison Courier:

Q: Madison Consolidated Schools is having a referendum on the May ballot. I anticipate that there will be advertising placed by both sides of this issue. Are there any requirements to identify the sponsors of those ads? 

A: The referendum is not an election, so there isn’t specific language requiring that advertisements identify whom is placing or paying for them.

You have the ability to establish that policy, however. It can range from no identification to naming the person or entity placing the ad to naming of the president or treasurer of an entity.

Obviously you’ll want to be consistent to avoid allegations that the newspaper is biased on the issue. With any policy that you adopt, you’ll have to be prepared to defend it if someone says the law does not require identification.

Will you be prepared to enforce the policy even if they say they will not run that full-page ad if they have to identify whose ad it is?

One thing to watch for on the editorial side: State law prohibits school districts from expending resources favoring a stance on the referendum, other than school officials explaining the referendum.

So the school district or board can’t buy an ad with taxpayer dollars, but school board members could use their own money to place an ad.

Contact Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel, with media law questions at skey@hspa.com or (317) 624-4427.