Saturday, January 03, 2009

Sen. Jim Waring Bill Seeks End of Officeholders' Abuse of Official Communications

Bravo to Sen. Jim Waring on his new legislation that seeks to keep public officials from abusing the public trust to promote themselves. It really angers me when officeholders use their position to inappropriately insinuate themselves into official communications from their agencies in blatant attempts to gravy train off a government expenditure. Incumbency is powerful enough.

Now if we could only get Arizona Republican Party Chairman Randy Pullen to stop using official party communications with GOP state committeemen to push his accomplishments ahead of the January 24th election of the next state GOP chairman. In that race, Pullen is running for re-election in a rematch with Lisa James who Pullen bested by a slim 4-vote margin in 2006. Regardless of Pullen's case for a second term, it's a risky strategy to play so loose with his "franking" privileges with an electorate that is so proud of its conservative credentials. I guess we'll see on January 24th how ideologically consistent these state committeemen are.

Read this account from the Arizona Capitol Times of Sen. Waring’s legislation here:

Arizona Capitol Times
January 2, 2009

Bill curbs public funds for media announcements

By Luige del Puerto

Three years ago, Gov. Janet Napolitano was featured on a state-sponsored billboard to promote Arizona tourism and safe driving on the state’s highways. The move was lambasted by her Republican opponents as a way to grab free publicity as the 2006 election approached.

But she isn’t the only elected official who has used state money to promote a public cause – and to reap the residual benefits of name recognition.

In 2007, the office of Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall published a 56-page booklet that included several pictures of LaWall herself. One photo showed LaWall next to a toddler with a caption that read “Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall believes our children are our future.”

And last year, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas followed suit with a 45-page handbook called “Roadmap to Crime Prevention” that included several references to Thomas and featured his smiling portrait.

This year, however, Sen. Jim Waring will try to end the practice of using public money on frivolous promotional material. The Phoenix Republican has sponsored legislation that would prohibit the use of public money for print or broadcast media announcements or Web site campaigns featuring elected officials or their employees.

The filing of SB 1002 on Dec. 9 represents Waring’s second try to get the bill passed. Last year, a similar Waring bill was not heard in the Senate.

SB 1002, though, includes new language to outline that the use of public funds for public announcements would be banned only when they refer to an official who is elected or appointed to elective office.

The bill also contains language effectively saying it should not be construed to prevent the official from “performing the duties” of his or her office, and it does not restrict an elected official’s right to communicate on “matters of public concern.”

The bill raises a couple of questions: How do you determine whether a print or broadcast media announcement is relating a matter of public concern? When is it in line with executing the duties of an elective office?

For instance, Thomas has vigorously defended publication of the handbook, saying it was an effective way to distribute public safety information.

The money used to pay for LaWall’s report came directly from funds seized in connection to criminal activity in the county.

And Napolitano has defended the decision to put up the billboards, saying she was just doing her job. At the time, she also pointed out that there were similar billboards featuring political figures all across the nation.

The legislation has a new sense of urgency, given the tough budget climate the state faces, Waring said.

“We do not have money to waste,” he said.

The Phoenix lawmaker said some of the ads or public announcements he has seen these past few years were neither efficient nor effective use of public money.

“The worst are the billboards with the governor’s picture — totally pointless,” he said.

Waring admitted that the bill is open-ended, but emphasized he needed a place to start, given that his previous bill did not go anywhere this past session.

“I am going to tighten it up and make it so it is clear, with no potential loopholes or ambiguities or it is not going to go,” he said.

Last session’s bill was assigned to the Senate Government Committee, chaired by Sen. Jack Harper, a Republican from Surprise. Harper did not hear the bill in committee.

Harper said there were complaints about the rigid language of last year’s bill. He said he hasn’t read the new version yet but added he supports its intent.

“It’s a great concept. I think it’s very taxpayer-friendly,” Harper said.

Jeff Kros, legislative director of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, said his group’s concern over the previous bill was that its language was “probably too broad” and “too restrictive.”

“I think we have the same concerns as everybody else in that a lot of our elected officials have to use the media to do their jobs, and this seemed to be really restrictive,” Kros said.

Waring introduced his bill last year after Thomas’ handbooks had unleashed a firestorm across the state, with Maricopa County supervisors questioning the wisdom of using public money to produce them.

Waring, though, has said the bill was not intended to target any particular official.

Theoretically, under SB 1002, Thomas’ handbooks still could be produced — but minus the county attorney’s name and picture.

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