Jim Zeigler to unveil lawsuit to stop schools using tax money for political campaigns

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State auditor Jim Zeigler plans a Monday news conference to unveil a lawsuit he’s preparing to stop school boards from using taxpayer money to fund campaigns that promote new tax increases to pay for education programs.

The move comes in the wake of the “Build Baldwin Now” campaign launched by the Baldwin County Board of Education — complete with its own website — that sought to inform voters about what they claimed was a pressing need for increased funding for the district. Private and public money was spent in the effort. Zeigler says the latter constitutes an inappropriate allocation of public money.

Zeigler’s lawsuit will name four members of the Baldwin County school board as well as Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange as co-defendants.

A news release from Zeigler’s office states:

As a result of the Defendant Members’ vote, the Baldwin County School Board and the Superintendent of the Baldwin County Public Schools spent in excess of $250,000 of public funds on a political campaign for a “yes” vote.

State Auditor Jim Zeigler objected to the Board’s spending of taxpayer funds for the political campaign. Plaintiff Zeigler requested Defendant Strange to investigate the violation and take the matter to the Baldwin County, Alabama grand jury.

Instead, Defendant Strange made a news announcement on March 30, 2015, the day before the vote, in which Defendant Strange told Plaintiff Zeigler, the Defendant Board Members, and the news media that the Board’s spending of public funds on a political campaign was legal. Defendant Strange relies on an outdated Attorney General’s Opinion issued in 2003 that said this type spending is legal. Accordingly, Defendant Strange has made himself a necessary party to this legal proceeding.

The law which Plaintiffs cite and allege herein and that Plaintiffs aver was violated by the Defendants was not passed until 2010. Defendant Strange and the Defendant Board are using a 2003 Attorney General Opinion to interpret a 2010 law. Plaintiffs aver that this use is clearly improper, since the 2010 law was not in existence when the 2003 Attorney General’s Opinion was issued.

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