How many of your tax dollars, if any, should be spent for self-promotion by elected officials?
It’s quite common when new governors get elected to see their names pop up on all kinds of things: Welcome to Mississippi signs on the highways; state maps; tourism and economic development promotion materials; and more.
But, the issue is much bigger than that.
Sen. John Polk of Hattiesburg introduced a bill this year that would prohibit candidates from appearing in tax-funded advertising during election years.
You may recall that Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann used his quirky “Dilbert” 2007 and 2011 campaign advertising style for ads that explain the state’s new voter ID law. No doubt he will use this style again if he seeks re-election or another office. A spokesperson for Hosemann’s office said $41,750 of tax money was spent to air the ads.
Then state treasurer, now lieutenant governor, Tate Reeves appeared in ads for the state-sponsored college savings plan.
The Associated Press reported Sen. Brice Wiggins of Pascagoula said former Jackson County Sheriff Mike Byrd – who has resigned and pleaded guilty to federal charges of obstructing justice and witness intimidation – used public money to pay for election-year signs with anti-drug messages. “Conveniently, it said, ‘Don’t do meth,’ and conveniently beside that was his face on billboards,” Wiggins said.
“My constituents asked for it because they felt like a lot of elected officials may have an unfair advantage during an election year,” explained Polk.
His bill passed the Senate 45-5, but died in the House Apportionment and Elections Committee.
The latest twist in taxpayer-funded self-promotion can be found on the Internet. Apparently, it’s not enough for some statewide elected officials to have just their photos and messages on agency web pages. They need more.
The web address for State Treasurer Lynn Fitch is no longer www.treasury.state.ms.us. It’s www.treasurerlynnfitch.com. Likewise the web address for Gov. Phil Bryant is www.governorbryant.com. Internet domain names like treasurerlynnfitch.com and governorbryant.com don’t cost much. But they do cost taxpayers something.
Lt. Gov. Reeves didn’t go quite so far. He doesn’t have a private domain name. He uses www.ltgovreeves.ms.gov, which is provided by the State of Mississippi.
Secretary of State Hosemann, State Auditor Stacey Pickering, Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce Cindy Hyde-Smith, and Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney have stuck with mundane web addresses like www.sos.ms.gov and www.mdac.state.ms.us that do nothing to promote themselves.
Then, there are the web pages themselves.
Go to www.ms.gov, click on “government,” then “state agency directory” to judge these pages for yourself.
Self-promotion should not be a taxpayer-funded function of government.
Bill Crawford (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.