10/23/2009College Station, Texas Uses Public Funds to Influence Election
College Station, Texas spends $20,000 sending red light camera brochure to influence voters to oppose referendum.
Officials in College Station, Texas used $20,000 in taxpayer funds in an attempt to influence residents to vote against a referendum that would ban red light cameras from the city. The city mailed to every voter a multi-color, bilingual brochure entitled "Red Light Cameras: Voter Education" in the hopes of convincing them to support a program that generated $905,688 in revenue for fiscal 2009.
"A petition was filed by a citizens' group asking the city council to let voters decide whether to keep or eliminate the red light camera system," the brochure explained. "This item will be on the November 3 ballot."
The brochure goes on to present a chart showing "red light related" crashes at photo enforced intersections in 2006 and 2007 -- before cameras were installed -- and in 2008 and 2009 -- after installation. The enforcement industry created the "red light related" category of accident as a way to selectively exclude the types of accidents that increase following the installation of cameras. The brochure's numbers also were not adjusted to reflect the significant decrease in traffic volume that began in 2007 as a result of recession and high gas prices. The drop in traffic resulted in a nationwide drop in the fatality rate to the lowest level the US Department of Transportation has ever recorded. In 2007, the rate stood at 1.38 deaths per 100 million vehicle-miles traveled. The figure plunged to just 1.15 in the first half of 2009.
Petition sponsor Jim Ash stopped the city from implementing a far more extensive plan to spend public money on a television and radio advertising blitz. Earlier this month, Ash filed an ethics complaint over a proposed brochure that would have included a number of what Ash described as potentially illegal claims.
"The false and misleading information is sufficiently substantial and important enough to influence a voter in the November 3, 2009 election," Ash wrote. "Conversations, emails obtained as a result of 'Freedom of Information' requests indicate the city manager and members of the city council know the facts to be misleading and false. Knowingly using city money to misrepresent facts for the purpose of influencing an election is a violation of election code."
After the complaint was filed, the city eliminated nearly all of the claims about the benefits of photo enforcement that were present in the twelve-page draft brochure. Early voting began on Monday in College Station. A copy of the final brochure is available in a 900k PDF file at the source link below.