Friday, Oct. 25 — An East Lansing City Council candidate who founded the East Lansing Film Festival has admitted wrongdoing and apologized for using film festival resources to promote her campaign.
Susan W. Woods, who founded the film festival 16 years ago, sent an email out to the festival’s listserv on Sept. 26 announcing her candidacy, which concluded: “Please vote for me on Tuesday, November 5 (the day before the film festival begins).”
The film festival is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation. Such entities are “absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office,” according to an Internal Revenue Service website. The organization also runs the risk of losing its tax-exempt status “and the imposition of certain excise taxes.”
“It was a complete and total mistake,” Woods said in an interview today. “I apologize profusely. I have never used it again. It was a terrible oversight.”
After it went out, Woods said four people complained to her about the email. “I think it was just a very innocent mistake,” she said.
However, it doesn’t clear her of violating the law, said Lansing attorney Eric Doster, who specializes in election law with Foster, Swift, Collins and Smith.
Doster said such penalties from the IRS are complaint driven: “The IRS isn’t going to touch this unless someone files a complaint.”
Rich Robinson, director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, said: “If I were her, I’d be on the phone with the IRS asking, ‘How can I reel this in?’”
Robinson was unsure what would happen after she’s admitted to the error, “But, boy, what a blunder.”
Woods is one of four candidates running for two open seats on the Council.