Friday, March 28, 2008

Goldwater Institute: Politicians should use taxpayer funds to inform, not self-promote

Facts Please, Just the Facts

by Clint Bolick

In a state with subsidized elections and draconian limits on campaign contributions, every advantage counts. One in particular is a whopper: self-promotion by elected officials at taxpayer expense.

The abuse is ubiquitous and transcends party lines. Publications and public-service announcements that happen to prominently bear the name and likeness of an elected official are all too frequent.

The officials defend the need for the publications, which misses the point. However legitimate a particular publication, the photo and name are wholly gratuitous, providing nothing of value except to the politician who wants to increase name identification and associate with popular issues for future campaigns.

Sen. Jim Waring has sponsored legislation to curb the practice altogether. Public officials still can publish whatever they want, and identify the office or agency that sponsors it, but they cannot include their own names or photographs. The approach nicely separates wheat from chaff.

Elected officials should be ecstatic, because the bill would reduce costs and give them extra space in their publications to fill with useful information, which surely is their true motivation. Mysteriously, opposition to the Waring bill has been tenacious. But it still has a chance for passage, after which it would arrive on the desk of Gov. Janet Napolitano, one of the frequent abusers of taxpayer dollars for self-promotion.

This issue, like the notorious check-cashing scheme in the U.S. House of Representatives awhile back, has a populist throw-out-the-rascals quality to it. Let's hope our legislators decide to police themselves, lest the voters police them at the ballot box.

Clint Bolick is the director of the Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation at the Goldwater Institute.

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