01/26/04 — It's wrong -- 'Freebie' ads promote

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It's wrong -- 'Freebie' ads promote

No elected public official in this state in recent decades has had —or deserved — more respect than the late State Treasurer Harlan Boyles. He followed longtime Treasurer Edwin Gill in continuing a proud North Carolina heritage of public confidence in guardianship of the peoples’ money.

Charles Heatherly served for many years as Boyles’ deputy director. Recently he wrote an op-ed piece in the Raleigh News & Observer on a subject which should be of concern to all our people.

He questioned the use by three of the state’s top politicians of almost $2 million in public funds he — andHarlan Boyles — felt rightfully should have gone to aid “worthy and needy” students in our public education system.

It is a concern that twice had been expressed by this newspaper and recently was the subject of an Associated Press article by Scott Mooneyham, who began his journalistic career with the News-Argus.

Heatherly’s article deplored use of public funds to pay for “thinly disguised” television ads used by elected officials to promote their own personal and politically favorable recognition.

Mike Easley started the trend as our attorney general aspiring to be governor. Citizens nightly saw him in prime time commercials warning them against being victimized by wrongdoers.

It worked. Easley came into his gubernatorial race with insurmountably favorable name recognition.

That obviously has not been lost on our now serving attorney general, state treasurer and secretary of state.

Frequently we have seen prime time programs interrupted by commercials featuring those officials warning us against being victimized by wrong-doers or letting us know we might be entitled to funds held by the state.

They are worthwhile messages, of course. But somehow they seem to be coming from elected officials beaming with good will and smelling of political opportunism paid for with money designed to be spent “solely to aid worthy and needy students who are residents of this state and enrolled in public institutions of higher education.”

Interestingly enough, the General Assembly has passed a law banning such ads during an election year.

That obviously recognizes that the commercials promote the officeholders and represent an inappropriate use of public funds.

How then can our legislators reconcile this as being wrong for one year — but acceptable for three out of the other three years of an election cycle?

Published in Editorials on January 26, 2004 2:18 PM