Barrow County Sheriff Jud Smith
WINDER (AP) -- A Georgia sheriff who used his department's Facebook page to spread word that he's seeking re-election says the posting doesn't violate Georgia campaign laws, and an attorney for the state agency in charge of enforcing those laws says the sheriff could be correct.
Barrow County Sheriff Jud Smith recently used his agency's Facebook page to alert residents that he's running for another term and plans a campaign reception on Feb. 3.
"I'm just letting people know that I do plan to run for re-election, and I look forward to the election season," Smith posted on the social networking website.
Georgia law forbids public officials from using government funds or equipment in political campaigns. The reports say that Smith insists the law doesn't apply to the Facebook page for the Barrow County Sheriff's Office because it's free and doesn't cost taxpayers a dime.
"I think Facebook owns that page with our name on it," Smith said. "I don't think we necessarily own that Facebook page; it's nothing that we paid for with tax dollars."
An attorney for the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission — formerly known as the state Ethics Commission — said she doesn't think the agency has a specific rule governing campaigns' use of social networking sites.
The attorney, Elisabeth Murray-Obertein, said it would violate state law if a sheriff used his department's official website to spread campaign news. But that may not apply to free sites like Facebook, she said.
"Using a Facebook page is an interesting situation because the law all boils down to whether the agency is making a contribution to someone's campaign," said Murray-Obertein, who added she doesn't think Smith's posting ran afoul of state campaign laws.
The sheriff said he knows better than to spend tax money on a campaign. He said that if the state's campaign ethics agency determines he violated election rules, he'll take the posting down.