Location:
CRIME AND CRIMINALS ; ELECTIONS;
Scope:
Connecticut laws/regulations; Other States laws/regulations;

OLR Research Report


November 19, 2010

 

2010-R-0462

ELECTION LAWN SIGN THEFT

By: James Orlando, Legislative Analyst II

Kristin Sullivan, Principal Analyst

You asked several questions about the theft of campaign lawn signs. Your questions and answers appear below.

1. What are the penalties for election lawn sign thefts?

We were unable to find a specific Connecticut statute criminalizing lawn sign theft or vandalism. However, a person who steals, defaces, or vandalizes these signs may still be subject to criminal charges, including larceny and trespass.

Theft of a small number of lawn signs would likely be classified as 6th degree larceny, which is defined as larceny where the value of the stolen property or services is $250 or less. This is a class C misdemeanor, punishable by up to 3 months in prison, up to a $500 fine, or both (CGS 53a-36, -42, -119, and -125b). Depending on the facts of a particular case, a person stealing lawn signs could also be guilty of trespass, which ranges from an infraction (simple trespass) to a class A misdemeanor (criminal trespass in the first degree) (CGS 53a-107 to -110a). Infractions are punishable by fines only, rather than imprisonment, while class A misdemeanors are punishable by up to one year in prison, up to a $2,000 fine, or both (CGS 53a-27, -36, and -42).

2. Do other states have penalties for lawn sign theft? What are examples of different approaches?

Most states, like Connecticut, punish theft or destruction of a lawn sign under statutes dealing generally with theft or vandalism and do not have a specific statute for lawn signs. However, we found six states with specific criminal or civil penalties related to the theft or destruction of lawn signs: Arizona, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Washington. Table 1 describes these state statutes addressing theft or tampering with lawn signs.

Table 1: State Laws on Lawn Sign Theft

State

Illegal Conduct (citation)

Penalty

Arizona

Knowingly removing, altering, defacing, or covering a political sign of any candidate for public office from 45 days before a primary election until seven days after the general election (Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. 16-1019(A))

Criminal

Up to 4 months in prison, up to a $750 fine, or both

Maine

Taking, defacing, or disturbing a lawfully placed sign bearing political messages relating to a general election, primary election, or referendum (Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 23, 1917-A(1))

Civil

Up to a $250 fine

New Hampshire

Removing, defacing, or knowingly destroying political advertising placed on or affixed to public or private property, except by the property owner, someone authorized by the owner, or a law enforcement officer removing improper advertising (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. 664:17, 21)

Civil

Up to a $1000 fine

Rhode Island

Willfully or maliciously displacing, removing, injuring, or destroying a political advertisement (R.I. Gen. Laws 11-22-2)

Criminal

Up to 10 days in prison, a fine of $100 to $500, or both, plus expenses and costs

South Carolina

Defacing, vandalizing, tampering with, or removing a lawfully placed political campaign sign before the election without the candidate's or party's permission (S.C. Code Ann. 7-25-210)

Criminal

Up to 30 days in prison, up to a $100 fine, or both

Washington

Removing or defacing lawfully placed political advertising, including yard signs or billboards, without authorization. Defacing or removing each item is a separate violation

(Rev. Code Wash. 29A.84.040)

Criminal

Up to 90 days in prison, up to a $1,000 fine, or both

3. Is there any information on the frequency of lawn sign thefts, in Connecticut or nationally?

We were not able to find data on the incidence of lawn sign theft in Connecticut or nationwide. Much lawn sign theft likely goes unreported. However, there is some anecdotal evidence (for example, numerous articles in newspapers across the country) that theft and vandalism of lawn signs is not uncommon.

According to the State Elections Enforcement Commission (SEEC), it receives many calls during an election cycle concerning theft or sabotage of campaign signs. Since the SEEC does not have jurisdiction over this type of activity, it refers campaign committees to their local police department.

4. How much do state House and Senate campaigns spend on lawn signs in Connecticut? What about other states?

The SEEC's review of campaign finance reports for the 2008 state election indicates that legislative candidates spent $450,000 on new lawn signs. This represents approximately $1,400 per candidate for state representative and $3,200 per candidate for state senator. The SEEC is currently collecting and analyzing campaign finance reports for the 2010 election cycle. We will update this report when the SEEC has completed this analysis.

We were unable to find a source for information on itemized campaign expenditures, including lawn signs, by legislative candidates in other states. We contacted campaign finance disclosure agencies in several states, including Arizona, California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin. With the exception of Wisconsin, the agencies were unable to provide summary data on lawn sign spending, either because they do not track expenditures to that level of detail or have reporting systems that do not allow them to aggregate certain expenditures. For example, Massachusetts' database lets candidates report lawn sign expenses under one of several different line items, including yard signs, campaign signs, sign supplies, or lumber for signs.

Using Wisconsin's database, we determined that for the 2008 general election, average spending on lawn signs by state legislative candidates was roughly comparable to average spending in Connecticut, particularly with respect to candidates for state representative. State Senate candidates spent over $54,000 on lawn signs, averaging over $2,100 per candidate (about $1,100 less than in Connecticut). State Assembly candidates spent over $244,000 on lawn signs, averaging over $1,300 per candidate (about $100 less than in Connecticut).

JO/KS:ts