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Public Resources Should Be Prohibited In Lobbying

July 17, 2007

Randy Page

by Randy Page

Our state’s largest newspaper printed an editorial last week exhorting the State Ethics Commission to uphold the law prohibiting campaigning with state property. Other media outlets will no doubt rightly concur and possibly offer an editorial of their own on the ills associated with such an activity. Whether it’s Thomas Ravenel using state email to support Rudy Guiliani or Jim Rex’s campaign manager using state resources to benefit his campaign, those who misuse state resources must be held accountable.

And while our organization agrees that public resources should be strictly prohibited from being used in political campaigns, the law stops well short of where it should regarding such practices. There should also be a prohibition against government employees and resources being used for lobbying purposes.

Unless it’s their job to do so, government employees should not be involved in lobbying or political campaigns on the public dime and with public resources. What they do on their own time and on their own dime is fine, but their lobbying and campaign activities should not be supported by our tax dollars. Government employees work for the people – they don’t represent the people. That concept seems to have been lost as government has grown bigger and bigger and has assumed more control over our lives.

Over the past three years, there are numerous examples of the Superintendent of Education (both Jim Rex and Inez Tenenbaum), school district superintendents and others within the public school system utilizing public resources for propaganda purposes and to lobby against the school choice effort. These activities range from hundreds of thousands of email action alerts going out to government employees; to propaganda flyers being printed and distributed in schools; to dozens of government employees using public time to converge on the Statehouse to lobby legislators.

When engaging in these lobbying efforts, not only are these government employees not doing the job for which they were hired, but they are using tax dollars to lobby against measures that those who pay their salaries might very well support. Such activities should not be tolerated.

This practice is certainly not exclusive to just the education establishment, but with their having a $7 billion budget and the largest number of government employees throughout the state, their use of public resources and employees to lobby for or against an issue is exceptionally obvious.

Tax dollars should be strictly neutral. When government employees get involved in political or lobbying campaigns while on the public’s time, it’s akin to the hired help telling the boss what to do. No business would allow that, and if they did they wouldn’t be in business long.

Couple the lobbying efforts of government employees with a state ethics law that allows elected officials to squelch criticism and restrict taxpayers’ political speech, and you have a system in which the inmates are definitely running the asylum. Thankfully, the US Supreme Court recently ruled against such a prohibition on political speech, which will ultimately put some power back into the hands and voices of the people paying the bills. Now, state elected officials need to show some leadership and take the next step in strengthening our “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” by outlawing the practice of lobbying with government resources. Allowing public monies and resources to be used to lobby against taxpayers does not lend itself to such a government.

Kudos to the media for drawing attention to this issue, but a double standard should not apply when it comes to public resources being used in the political arena. Public resources and the government employees who utilize said resources should be barred from both political campaigns and lobbying campaigns while on the public’s time.

Randy Page is President of South Carolinians for Responsible Government, a statewide grassroots organization advocating for more efficient and effective government.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. July 18, 2007 4:48 PM

    “Over the past three years, there are numerous examples of the Superintendent of Education (both Jim Rex and Inez Tenenbaum), school district superintendents and others within the public school system utilizing public resources for propaganda purposes and to lobby against the school choice effort.”

    SCDOE is nothing more than propaganda machine and somehow that seems acceptable to the S.C. Press with few exceptions.

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