The political campaign season has descended on west Oakland County — as well as across the state and nation — in full force. With the Aug. 7 primary election looming, lakes area residents are already subject to a torrent of advertising, including traditional signs and mailers, for candidates seeking elected office. Although we detailed local rules regarding political signage in today’s edition of the Spinal Column Newsweekly, apparently a more obscure state rule is going unheeded. Those in west Oakland County who we know are in violation — most likely unintentionally due to the somewhat esoteric nature of the rule itself — need to take the steps necessary to make sure they are in compliance with state codes, therefore avoiding potentially serious penalties.
At issue is Michigan Administrative Code (MAC) 436.1335, which applies to those licensed through the state Liquor Control Commission (LCC) to sell alcohol in the state of Michigan. Specifically, the rule states that “a licensee shall not display advertising that advocates the election of a person or political party on the inside or outside of a licensed premises.”
Moreover, the MAC 436.1001 defines “licensed premises” as “any portion of a building, structure, room, or enclosure on real estate that is owned, leased, used, controlled, or operated by a licensee in the conduct of the business at the location for which the licensee is licensed by the commission, except when otherwise specified by commission rule or written commission order.”
The practical translation of that is that political signage can be displayed outside of liquor-selling establishments, but inside the business is off-limits, as is having political signage in any way affixed to the building’s exterior. Therefore, all those signs you are seeing outside of gas stations that sell alcohol or liquor stores in west Oakland County are in compliance with the rules; anything, however, on the inside of the establishment is a violation, which comes with penalties of a fine of up to $300 for the business, or suspension or revocation of the liquor license, according to Andrea Miller, public information officer for the LCC.
She said that such violations are “not very common,” although if a formal complaint is filed, officials from the LCC will go to the business and investigate. Local police departments also have jurisdiction, she said.
Didn’t know about this rule? Don’t worry — neither did we until we were tipped off by a source raising questions about campaign signage involving a local judicial race. Therefore, we investigated the matter and were told by state officials that the signs in question were placed in accordance with Michigan rules since they weren’t inside a licensed business nor affixed to the exterior. But during our investigation, we also uncovered campaign-related materials for some local candidates inside several businesses that sell alcohol — which, under MAC 436.1335, is a no-no.
We will not identify which licensed businesses that sell alcohol were in violation, nor will we reveal which candidates had their literature inside those businesses. An employee at one such business that the Spinal Column Newsweekly informed of the violation said people from a campaign asked to place literature inside their business. The employee claimed to have no knowledge of the rule, and vowed to take the literature out of the store.
We suspect that employee’s claim of ignorance would be common if we approached all of the businesses with liquor licenses that we’ve seen with campaign-related literature inside. MAC 436.1335 is a largely unknown rule; representatives from the LCC effectively said as much when they reported few complaints of violation. Therefore, we are not claiming that the owners of the licensed establishments, nor anyone in the various campaigns, have been intentionally or maliciously violating LCC guidelines.
However, rules are rules, complete with penalties — including possible suspension or revocation of a liquor license — if the LCC finds the business in violation. The rules need to be followed, however recondite, so we urge business owners with liquor licenses to bone up on them this election season and, if in violation of MAC 436.1335 or any other LCC rule, get the business into compliance. We understand that in all likelihood you’re just trying to help and be an active member in the community by displaying the campaign literature, but we suspect that the “I didn’t know about the rule” argument won’t fly with the LCC.
That also leads us to a word of warning to candidates for office. While we understand that you’re likely just attempting to promote your campaign, it’s important that you, as well, know the rules. If you have literature in a business that sells alcohol, get it back and place it somewhere it’s allowed. If you’ve been actively promoting your candidacy at licensed establishments by displaying campaign materials there, for the sake of the businesses, you would be wise to cease that strategy.
The last thing local businesses need is to be hit with a fine or to have their liquor licenses suspended or revoked all because of what is likely a simple oversight of a fairly obscure provision in state rules.