Goddard booklet criticized as self promoting

Posted on March 09, 2008 | Type: In the News | Author: Dennis Welch
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Two months after another politician was criticized for using public money to promote his own name and image, one of the state's top elected officials has done roughly the same thing. Last week, Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard released a 28-page booklet with a full-page cover photo in which he's featured prominently. The thousands of dollars it cost to design and print the booklet came from money intended for public use.

The new booklet comes on the heels of criticism lobbed at Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas in January when his office produced its own crime prevention booklet prominently displaying Thomas' name and photo.

Critics, including some state lawmakers, have said these types of glossy, full-color booklets seem to be more about promoting an official's image than his issues.

"I would guess that there would be fewer of these brochures if you didn't put the official's face on it," said state Sen. Jim Waring, R-Phoenix, who tried unsuccessfully earlier this year to pass a law banning the use of an official's name on publicly funded fliers, TV ads and Web sites.

"I do think all these things can be produced without big pictures of the elected officials involved," Waring said.

A spokeswoman for the attorney general on Thursday defended using Goddard's photo, which appears twice in the "Consumer Guide for Young Adults," and his name, which appears three times.

"He's the attorney general," spokeswoman Andrea Esquer said. "It's part of his job."

The guide was paid for with $6,600 from a government fund set up specifically for consumer protection issues, she said.

While the money is still considered public, it did not come from taxpayers but from settlements with people prosecuted by the attorney general's office in consumer rip-off cases, Esquer said.

"This is an appropriate use of the fund," she said.

Esquer also tried to distance Goddard, a Democrat, from the recent uproar over the "Road Map to Crime Prevention" put out by Thomas, a Republican.

For one, she said, Goddard's office printed 5,000 copies of its guide and did not mass-distribute it, hoping instead that most people would download it from the attorney general's Web site.

Thomas' office spent about $220,000 of taxpayer money to have 600,000 copies of its "Road Map" printed and then inserted into newspapers dropped on the doorsteps of Maricopa County residents.

"We did not print an exorbitant amount of copies of this," said Esquer, adding later: "Nor did we include it as an insert in a newspaper."

The county attorney's special assistant, Barnett Lotstein, said the type of booklet produced by both agencies is "absolutely appropriate."

He also said the county attorney was unfairly singled out for criticism earlier this year, even though other agencies, such as Goddard's, have been using public money to produce similar booklets for years.

Since January, Lotstein said, the county attorney's office has received praise from residents for its booklet. More than 20,000 extra copies were requested by local law enforcement, schools, businesses and churches, and another 10,000 were downloaded at the county attorney's Web site, Lotstein said.

Other Arizona politicians have faced backfire when using public money to pay for things that also promote politicians.

Recently, Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall in Tucson caught flak, including from Sen. Waring, over a 56-page booklet produced by her office featuring numerous photos of her. In one, she was shown with the governor. In another, she had her arm around a child.

A few years ago, Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano was criticized when the state spent about $150,000 to put her face on billboards across Arizona promoting tourism.

Napolitano herself became a critic of such spending in January during her State of the State speech.

"Too often lately, we see this money go for TV commercials that amount to little more than publicity for an elected official," the governor said, earning wild applause from lawmakers. "That's the wrong way to use it."

Some officials have also been dipping into RICO funds, money seized in racketeering and drug cases, to produce TV spots, print ads and Web sites spotlighting an issue while raising their own profile.

Thomas did that last year, buying up billboards and ads in movie theaters to shame convicted drunken drivers. The billboards included the convict's mug shot and Thomas' name in bold letters.

Regulations say law enforcement agencies are supposed to use RICO funds to pay for equipment and educational programs. But Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, who sponsored a House bill similar to Waring's earlier this year, said that often does not happen.

Elected officials sometimes use RICO money to promote a political agenda in the guise of public service, she said. "If they want to use their own department funds, then fine. But it shouldn't be coming out of RICO."

The conservative Goldwater Institute on Friday also criticized the spending, likening it to campaign ads for ambitious politicians.

"In a state with some of the most stringent campaign finance laws anywhere in the country, politicians are using taxpayer money for self-promotion to gain political advantage," said the institute's Clint Bolick.

Despite the criticism from both political parties and thunderous support during the governor's speech, it appears unlikely that any elected official will be forced to stop anytime soon.

Sinema's bill, like Waring's, never made it to a vote in the Legislature. Both said it's a long shot for the bills to be revived.

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