OPINION NUMBER - 083
ADOPTED - 1985/11/15
REQUESTED BY: Nebraska Traffic Safety Now
QUESTION: May Nebraska Traffic Safety Now, a coalition of some 30 safety organizations, continue disseminating traffic safety information to the public without reporting those efforts to the Commission?
2nd Question Presented: May Merritt and Associates initiate and report any activity directly designed to influence voters on the issue?
2. See analysis.
Nebraska Traffic Safety Now advises us that it is a coalition of some 30 organizations and individuals who have been active for many years in the area of traffic safety and, particularly, the promotion of seat belt use. The request for an opinion arises from the passage of LB496, which requires mandatory use of seat belts for front seat passengers. The bill became operative on September 6, 1985. A referendum petition has been filed with and certified by the Secretary of State and a referendum question will be placed on the general election ballot in 1986. There were not sufficient petition signatures gathered to suspend implementation of LB496.
Nebraska Traffic Safety Now, upon passage of LB496, initiated certain educational efforts to encourage the public to use seat belts and to inform the public about the particulars of LB496. Nebraska Traffic Safety Now receives its funding from National Traffic Safety Now, a coalition based in Detroit, Michigan. Nebraska Traffic Safety Now has retained Merritt and Associates of Lincoln, Nebraska, to assist in the coordination and execution of a statewide program to encourage seat belt use. Nebraska Traffic Safety Now requests advice on whether it may continue disseminating traffic safety information to the public without reporting such efforts to this Commission.
Definitions of certain terms found in the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Act should be highlighted. They are: "Ballot question committee shall mean any committee acting in support of, or in opposition to, the qualification, passage or defeat of a ballot question but which does not receive contributions or make expenditures or contributions for the purpose of influencing or attempting to influence the action of the voters for or against the nomination or election of a candidate." Section 49-1406 R.R.S., 1943.
"Committee shall mean (1) any combination of two or more individuals which receives contributions or makes expenditures of over one thousand dollars for the purpose of influencing or attempting to influence the action of the voters for or against the nomination or election of one or more candidates, or the qualification, passage, or defeat of one or more ballot questions, or (2) a person, as defined in section 49-1438, whose primary purpose is to receive contributions or make expenditures and receives or makes contributions or expenditures of over one thousand dollars, for the purpose of influencing or attempting to influence the action of the voters for or against the nomination or election of one or more candidates, or the qualification, passage or defeat of one or more ballot questions, except an individual, other than a candidate, shall not constitute a committee." Section 49-1413 R.R.S., 1943.
"Independent expenditure shall mean an expenditure as defined in section 49-1419 by a person if the expenditure is not made at the direction or, or under the control of, another person and if the expenditure is not a contribution to a committee." Section 49-1428 R.R.S., 1943.
Upon reference to the definition of "committee" above, and particularly subsection (2) it would appear that Nebraska Traffic Safety Now is not now a "committee" since its "primary purpose" is not to receive contributions, or make expenditures, "for the purpose of influencing or attempting to influence the action of the voters." In addition, the definition of "ballot question committee" found at Neb. Rev. Stat. Section 49-1406 (Reissue 1984) contains the important condition of "influencing or attempting to influence the action of the voter."
In determining whether Nebraska Traffic Safety Now may continue disseminating traffic safety information without being subject to the reporting requirements of the Act, we considered the following facts significant. First, before the initiative referendum began, you had already set out to educate the public on traffic safety benefits, including the use of seat belts.
This type of activity would clearly not be regulated by the Nebraska Political Accountability and Disclosure Act. You indicate that this public information program later included supplying information about LB496. Third, any activities directly designed to influence voters on the mandatory seat belt issue would be initiated by Merritt and Associates.
Based on our present understanding of your organization, and in view of the pending ballot referendum on LB496, it is the Commission's opinion that the activities of the committee's public employees and officials should be restricted to those of an educational nature concerning the use of seat belts, and should not include advocating a position on the ballot question.
In this regard please see the Accountability Act, Section 49-14,101(4) R.R.S., 1943, and Commission Advisory Opinion No. 82. With these restrictions in mind, we believe the coalition may continue disseminating traffic safety information to the public without reporting as a ballot question committee.
II. Concerning any activities which Nebraska Traffic Safety Now would undertake to influence voters on the seat belt issue and referendum, under the Accountability Act the reporting of funds spent to influence voters on a ballot question is the responsibility of the person who authorizes the expenditure. We
assume, based on your question, that the coalition's expenditures would likely be independent expenditures, rather than expenditure to a political committee. Section 49-1467 of the Act concerns independent expenditures, and requires the reporting of independent expenditures of more than $100. This reporting should be made on NADC Form B-6, a copy of which is attached.
It would appear that either Nebraska Traffic Safety Now or the National Traffic Safety Now organization, as the person authorizing such expenditures, would be primarily responsible for reporting, rather than Merritt and Associates. In either case, a Report of Independent Expenditures must disclose not only the person to whom the expenditure was made, but also the person providing the consideration for which the expenditure was made if different from the payee (see Form B-6), a description of the independent expenditure, and detailed information regarding any person who contributed more than $100 to the expenditure.
Commission staff are available to assist you should you have questions regarding proper completion of reporting forms.