05/22/06 — SUBTLE, BUT: ‘Public’ service ads can be self-serving

View Archive

SUBTLE, BUT: ‘Public’ service ads can be self-serving

The General Assembly is moving on an ethics bill that would increase restrictions on favors and funds that might be used to influence legislators.

Lobbyists play an important role in the legislative process. And political action committees (PACs) have been significant in the funding of increasingly costly campaigns legislators have to conduct to face elections every two years.

But recent history has pointed up the need for tighter controls.

The public should particularly welcome one proposal in the legislation.

It would prohibit members of the Council of State from appearing in “public service” announcements.

We all have seen them - usually on prime time television. The State Treasurer or the Attorney General will be beaming from the screen offering helpful information to viewers (AKA potential voters.)

The information provided is undoubtedly helpful to citizens who might be potential victims of fraud or those who might unknowingly have funds available in accounts held by the state.

Are such commercials also beneficial to the officeholders offering the advice? One needs to but review the exposure Mike Easley enjoyed while serving as attorney general and simultaneously gearing up for a successful run for governor.

The favorable public exposure on nightly prime time TV is invaluable from the standpoint of positive name recognition.

To a lesser degree, the same might be said of the certificates of approval found on all elevators in the state. It carries not just a notice that the apparatus has been deemed safe, but an attractive likeness of Commissioner of Labor Cherie K. Berry - who has to face the voters every four years.

The political benefits of these things might be subtle, but they are deliberate and undeniable.

Are they fair to other citizens who might aspire to be attorney general, or state treasurer or commissioner of labor - or governor?

The people of the state would be well served if the General Assembly proceeds in banning “public service” commercials that give Council of State members or other office holders such a self-serving advantage in future elections.

Published in Editorials on May 22, 2006 12:00 PM