Freedom Inc., one of Kansas City’s best-known political clubs, used the city’s copyrighted logo without permission in an election tabloid distributed last week, according to city attorneys.
“It’s not appropriate to use the city’s logo in a political advertisement,” said City Attorney Bill Geary, adding that it also could be a city ordinance violation. “It can give the impression that the city is supporting something, and that’s a false impression.”
The logo appears in the tabloid, at the center of a half-page ad supporting Proposition A. The proposal would turn control of the St. Louis Police Department over to city politicians. As it stands, the St. Louis and Kansas City police departments are uniquely overseen by state boards with members appointed by the governor. Each city’s mayor also is a member of each board.
Kansas City Mayor Sly James supports the measure, which will be on Tuesday’s statewide ballot, but will not change Kansas City’s governance. His photo and portions of a letter he wrote in August to St. Louis’ mayor offering support also appear in the ad with the logo for Freedom Inc. — long considered the most important political club in Kansas City’s African-American community.
Geary said James’ letter on official city letterhead was allowable under Missouri law, even though the use of city resources is prohibited in political campaigns.
“It fits the statute’s exception for elected officials to be able to make public statements,” Geary said. “He was careful in the letter in expressing his personal opinion.”
After the tabloid was published Wednesday, James sent an email to his fellow police board members.
“I was not consulted about this ad and gave no permission for the use of either my photo or the city logo in connection with the substance of the ad,” he wrote.
His spokesman, Danny Rotert, said the ad accurately characterizes the mayor’s position, but also gives the impression that the city officially supports the measure.
“They screwed up,” Rotert said.
Rotert said he called Steve Glorioso, a political consultant who is working to pass the measure, and asked him to alert Freedom Inc. about the “unauthorized use” of the logo. Glorioso said he did that.
But on Friday, Freedom Inc. leaders said they were still unaware of the possible infringement contained in the eight-page voter guide that included other races and issues.
“The logo was on the mayor’s letter and that’s where it came from,” said Clinton Adams, Freedom’s legal counsel. “Nobody told me or anyone on the leadership team about anything inappropriate.”
Adams said the club printed 30,000 copies of the tabloid that were distributed Wednesday in The Pitch and some delivery areas of The Star. He said campaign workers also were distributing copies in 11 wards and continuing through the elections Tuesday. The intent of the tabloid was to inform voters that the mayor supported Proposition A, along with their organization, Adams said.
“That was all,” he said. “We were not trying to mislead. However, if we infringed, we are sorry and we do apologize.”
Geary said he planned to look at the ad and would likely send a letter to Freedom Inc. asking them not to use the logo again.
A week ago, the Missouri Ethics Commission released a consent order against Freedom Inc., detailing a series of campaign finance reporting violations over the past four years. The 50-year-old club paid a $9,500 fine, conceded dozens of violations and promised not to break the law again.