On December 14th, the Tallahassee Independent Ethics Office released a legal memorandum related to the placement of campaign signs. The memorandum was written by the Board Counsel, John Reid.
It is common for city commission candidates to display campaign signs on private properties owned by lobbyists or city vendors in highly-traveled and visible locations. Though property owners typically grant commissioners access to do so, they do not generally provide access for multiple candidates in a single race.
During a city commission meeting in November, the question was raised, does a city commissioner running for reelection violate the Tallahassee Ethics Code when they display their campaign sign on property owned by a lobbyist or city vendor?
The commissioners requested additional research and legal opinion. In response to this issue, the City of Tallahassee Independent Ethics Office released a legal memorandum in December 2021.
As a city commissioner is considered a “public official,” they must adhere to specific rules implemented by state and local governments for their campaigns. In this case, the question is asking if candidates are accepting a “gift” by posting a campaign sign on the private property of a lobbyist or city vendor.
The Tallahassee Ethics Code refers to the state ethics code to define the term “gift” and what constitutes a gift. In this instance, the regulation states a “campaign-related personal service provided without compensation by individuals…or any other contribution or expenditure by a political party or affiliated party committee” is not considered a gift.
Therefore, the City of Tallahassee Independent Ethics Office concluded that a city commissioner running for reelection does not violate any ethics code by posting their campaign signs as mentioned above.
Moreover, the property owner has a First Amendment right to express their preference in an election. Therefore, any attempt by a government actor to mandate equal time, such as open access to all candidates’ campaign signs, would be unconstitutional, as it would require a private property owner to express support for candidates they do not.