Each year, American public officials spend millions in taxpayer funds to pay for broadcast ads, billboards, and glossy brochures under the umbrella of public service announcements. These officials often feature prominently in the ads, yielding increased name recognition and favorability ratings — objects of exceptional value — for them.
Public records requests by the Goldwater Institute show that between 2006 and 2008, elected officeholders in Arizona spent at least $4.2 million in public funds on name and photo placements in various official publications. Although some publications may serve the legitimate purpose of making citizens aware of new laws, many are undeniably self-promotional in nature — and done at the expense of taxpayers. The cost to taxpayers, however, is rarely disclosed to the public.
The use of public funds for what essentially constitutes campaigning is ethically and constitutionally suspect. Moreover, this practice puts others who attempt to run for office at a serious disadvantage. An incumbent who gets so much “free press” is a difficult opponent indeed. And for most elected officials, the lure of using public funds to self-promote is simply too great to resist.
For example, in her 2008 State of the State speech, former Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano criticized the use of public funds for political self-promotion, stating, “Too often lately, we see this money go for TV commercials that amount to little more than publicity for an elected official. That’s the wrong way to use it.” However, Governor Napolitano’s office spent $150,000 to post her name and photo on colorful billboards around the state to promote tourism, among other questionable expenses.
By exposing this practice, we hope legislators will be encouraged to curtail the misuse of taxpayer funds. Official publications should communicate information relevant to the public office, not promote the officeholder. And because moral suasion alone is unlikely to produce reform, the report also describes the kind of legislation needed to bring an end to such self-promotion.
*Editor’s note: In the original version of Shameless Self Promotion the Goldwater Institute erroneously stated that the City of Chandler printed 841,000 copies of its February/March CityScope publication at a cost of $29,854.51. Those figures actually reflect the annual quantity and cost of CityScope, not monthly. The Goldwater Institute has removed the inaccuracy from the report and regrets the error.