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Yes on M group teeters on edge of law

As Election Day draws near, the volunteers at the Yes on M campaign are gearing up for a last-minute push mobilizing student volunteers, conducting opinion polls by phone and sending out one last mailer.

Since the committee was created in September, it has brought in more than $127,000, according to campaign disclosure statements.

All but about $10,000 has been spent, said Diane Hockersmith, deputy superintendent of the Merced Union High School District.

Though the committee was registered by local community members, for all intents and purposes, Hockersmith and Superintendent Scott Scambray run the show, a campaign affiliate said.

State campaign finance regulations bar districts from using taxpayers' dollars for campaign purposes. Spending time on those purposes falls under legal restrictions.

Although the Yes on M committee may have upheld the letter of the law, some of its actions raise questions about whether it followed the spirit of the law. Schools are allowed to deliver nonpartisan information on school bond issues.

At community gatherings, however, Scambray and others regularly promote voting yes.

Adam Cox, the citizen chairman of the committee, referred all questions regarding finance to Hockersmith.

A woman who answered the phone at 3168 Collins Drive, the campaign's mailing address, said questions could be best answered by Scambray and not anyone at the office.

Principals at each of the high schools are responsible for garnering enough student volunteers to man a phone bank several nights a week.

Hockersmith insisted that all campaign work is being done during off-hours, even if conducted in the middle of the day.

A Friday morning meeting -- at which each school principal received a "precinct box" filled with maps and voter rolls for canvassing this morning -- was done during an "early lunch" all the administrators took.

Same for the rounding-up of students.

"We have been very careful about not going over the line," Scambray said.

He also noted that after work hours, all district employees can take part in any legal election activity they wish.

"They are free as citizens to donate time and money to whatever they feel," he said. "That's the way the state of California has it set up."

Hockersmith said she volunteers at the phone bank every night.

And the bond's chance of passing on election night?

"We're looking good," she said.

Reporter Danielle Gaines can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dgaines@mercedsun-star.com.

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