In Colorado, a state judge has determined that a Facebook post made by a representative of the Liberty Common School represents an illegal contribution to a candidate for the Thompson School District board.
The incident first started in August when the charter school from Fort Collins posted a link on Facebook to an article about a parent who was running for a seat on the board in an adjacent school district.
The principal of Liberty Common School, Bob Schaffer, then called the district board candidate, Tomi Grundvig, an “excellent education leader”, offering his support.
Schaffer, who ran for United States Senate in 2004, offered a large amount of influence in this local school board election. He has nearly 4,000 Facebook friends.
While no money was used to make the contribution, Administrative law judge Matthew E. Norwood said that the post was against the law, although he only considered it to be a minor infraction.
Judge Norwood ruled, “The school’s action was the giving of a thing of value to the candidate, namely favorable publicity. It was given indirectly to her for the purpose of promoting her election.”
However, some people are against the ruling, saying that it is a violation of free speech.
University of Colorado law professor Scott Moss said, “I don’t buy that under the First Amendment speech about a candidate can be deemed a contribution. Is speech valuable? Yes. But that’s not a basis for restricting core political speech.”
According to Moss, the initial post on the school’s Facebook page was just regular community news. It wasn’t until people started sharing the post that politics became involved.
Moss argued, “If a neo Nazi shares this article, does that make me a neo Nazi? Of course not.”
The legal complaint was originally filed by Grundvig’s primary competitor for the board seat, Gil Barela, who says that she is pleased with the decision made by the judge that the post gave Grundvig an unfair advantage.
Barela went on to bash Schaffer, saying, “He’s a former congressman. He should know the law and he just took the whole thing lightly, and that’s fine, if that’s the way he wants to take it. But this is a serious matter as far as I’m concerned, and I believe the person he endorsed had an unfair advantage.”
Ultimately, the judge ruled that the Liberty Common School had to delete its original post in order to put the issue to rest.
Judge Norwood wrote, “Posting such statements and links on the school’s Facebook page will bring about more ‘liking,’ ‘sharing’ and commenting and will further embroil the school in election politics. The less said on the school’s Facebook page about candidates and elections, the better.”
It is unlikely that an appeal will be filed by Grundvig or the school district. After all, Grundvig received quite a bit of publicity from the incident anyway. Even though she lost the case, she has to be feeling pretty confident about the upcoming election.