By Debi Brazzale, COLORADO NEWS AGENCY
Promoting government programs and services to the public is one thing, but showcasing partisan elected officials in such publicly funded PR is a misuse of taxpayer money. That’s the case a lawmaker tried to make at the Capitol Wednesday as he proposed a ban on such promotions, but a majority of his colleagues on the Senate State Affairs Committee rejected the proposal on a party-line vote.
“It’s a breach of the public trust and our fiduciary responsibility of the public checkbook when elected officials use state funds to turn public service promotions into self-service promotions,” Sen. Bill Cadman told committee members before the vote.
Senate Bill 105, sponsored by the Colorado Springs Republican, would have barred elected public officials from spending public dollars on public communications that could be construed as self-promotion — for example, an ad that features an elected official touting the virtues of a government program or service.
Cadman noted that every state department publishes promotional materials and places media ads to provide the public with information about their services. Departments utilize such things as calendars, TV ads, brochures and radio ads to raise public awareness. He said such outreach can be valuable but that the state should draw the line at elected officials soaking up some of the limelight.
“Legitimate communication with the public is valuable,” said Cadman. “But it’s their money we’re spending. It’s important for the people to know that their dollars are not being used for campaigning.”
Yet committee Chair Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, said he didn’t see the problem.
“These promotions have a lot more authenticity to them if an image of an elected official is attached to it because it’s not just some Joe Blow saying this,” said Heath. “It just doesn’t trouble me to the extent that I think we ought do something about it.”
Cadman told his colleagues on the committee that he has received a lot of e-mails from the public on the issue over the past year or so, prompting him to look into the issue.
“The public is sensitive to this,” Cadman said. “We should be sensitive to this.”
Heath acknowledged that he “shuddered” every time he saw an image of then-Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican, when he was an incumbent seeking re-election. Heath said he recognizes the advantage elected officials have when their image is publicized at no cost to themselves. Still, he said, it shouldn’t matter.
“It doesn’t really have an effect on me,” said Heath before casting his vote against the bill .“I just really don’t see the problem.”
Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins concurred with Heath.
“I don’t see it as a problem,” said Bacon.
Cadman said he calculated around $600,000 spent in recent promotional materials from several departments, but he said he was not able to determine how much has been spent across all departments over a year’s time.