FRAMINGHAM – For more than a year, City of Framingham employees, while on the clock for the City of Framingham, have been posting and interacting with the campaign Facebook page for Yvonne Spicer For Mayor.
At least two City of Framingham employees were posting on the campaign Facebook page.
The interaction may be a violation of the state’s ethics laws as well as a potential campaign finance law violation.
Someone changed the Facebook page contact information this afternoon, March 30, after the SOURCE pointed out the possible violation by the City and its employees this morning in emails.
Prior to the change, the page was tied to http://www.yvonnespicerformayor.com
The email address for the Facebook page was firstname.lastname@example.org
And the page was listed for a political candidate and not a government official.
The City of Framingham social media handbook, updated in 2021, states “Massachusetts law generally prohibits City of Framingham employees from using their public position to engage in political activity, whether election related or non‐election related. Accordingly, City of Framingham employees must carefully consider whether their use of City of Framingham social media tools may be considered impermissible political activity. For example, City employees may not use a City’s Facebook or Twitter account to post a link to a partisan political group or campaign website, request political contributions, or support the election of a candidate for political office.”
City employees, including the City’s Chief Information Officer Kelly McFalls, have also been sharing the Yvonne Spicer For Mayor Facebook page posts on the City of Framingham’s official Facebook page, for more than a year.
Those actions may be violations of the state’s ethics law.
“A public employee may not use his public position to engage in political activity. Section 23(b)(2)(ii) of the conflict of interest law prohibits the use of one’s public position to engage in political activity, because a public employee who does so is using his official position to secure for himself or others (such as a candidate or a ballot question committee) unwarranted privileges of substantial value that are not properly available to similarly situated persons.”
And a state ethics advisory states also “it is important to note that once an election is scheduled (or, in some cases, even just anticipated) concerning a matter, political activity relating to the matter will be deemed to be election-related political activity and a public employee’s involvement in such activity will be subject to the greater restrictions described above in the sections of this Advisory concerning election-related political activity. Most importantly, election-related political activity is subject to the restrictions of the campaign finance law and the public employee wishing to participate in such activity must observe those limits. Any action prohibited by the campaign finance law will generally be considered “unwarranted” for purposes of Section 23(b)(2)(ii).”
The Massachusetts campaign finance law “prohibits the use of public resources for a political purpose.”
An advisory for the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance states “If a legislator maintains a campaign website or a campaign social media site, State House staff members may not, during their workday, be involved in maintaining such sites.”
The same would apply for the Mayor’s spokesperson McFalls, who is employed by the City.
The Office of Campaign & Political Finance also noted that “Facebook (or other social media) may be used to direct persons interested in making contributions to a candidate’s website. It is important, however, to note that public employees may not solicit or receive contributions, either directly or indirectly, or at any time or in any location, and no person may solicit or receive contributions in any governmental building.”
City of Framingham employees were sharing the Yvonne Spicer campaign Facebook page on the City’s of Framingham Official Facebook page for more than a year.
McFalls told SOURCE this morning, it was a City maintained page.
But the page was created when Spicer was running for Mayor, and up until this afternoon, when someone changed the page, it was still tied to her campaign website, and still an active political campaign social media page.
When individuals clicked on the Spicer for Mayor Facebook page it brought you to the Spicer for mayor website where it asked individuals to make donations to her campaign.
Voters will be asked to elect a mayor for 4 years in November 2021.
Spicer has not officially announced her re-election but she has been fundraising throughout the pandemic.
McFalls, acting as the Mayor’s spokesperson, emailed SOURCE after the news outlet emailed the Mayor and city officials Monday night on the equity vaccine clinics not being made public but publicized on the Mayor’s political campaign’s Facebook page.
The state advises elected leaders to have two Facebook pages – a campaign one for their political life and a government one for the official elected position. The two can not be interchanged. Some elected leaders have three Facebook pages, as they maintain a personal one for family & friends.
SOURCE asked the Mayor, the City’s Chief Financial Officer Thatcher Kezer III, and the City’s attorney Christopher Petrini for a statement this afternoon.
No one from the City of Framingham has responded as of the publication of this report at 5 p.m.
The news media outlet also contacted the State’s Office of Campaign & Political Finance and the State Ethics Commission.
Below are screenshots, the news media outlet took before someone changed the Facebook page settings this afternoon.