When state officials spend public money to produce radio and TV spots against drugs or crime, those officials may be thinking about more than public safety.
They may be thinking, for example, about re-election.
“I’m certain if there was no political benefit to it, public officials wouldn’t do it,” said Sen. Gordon Crow, R-Coeur d’Alene. “History has shown us it’s been used more in the past for political reasons than for public safety.”
Crow wants to separate the message from the public servant. Crow, a media relations consultant, is pushing a bill to prohibit state “public service announcements” from including the name or face of an elected official. On Monday, he took the bill before the Senate’s state affairs committee.
“This bill would prevent politicians from using taxpayers’ money for campaigning year-round,” he said. “Albeit small, it’s a form of campaign reform.”
Crow said that Gov. Phil Batt has declined to have his name listed on roadside signs that welcome visitors and ask them not to litter, and Crow praised that decision. Former Gov. Cecil Andrus’ name previously appeared on those signs.
The committee didn’t vote on the proposed bill, instead asking Crow to clarify some language and bring it back.
Sen. Bruce Sweeney, D-Lewiston, wanted a better definition of public service announcement. Sen. Marguerite McLaughlin, D-Orofino, feared such a bill could affect legitimate public health announcements, such as encouraging people to immunize their children.
Sen. Denton Darrington, R-Declo, asked if such a bill would prohibit him from appearing in an ad encouraging people to wear seatbelts.
“And I’ve not done this, by the way,” Darrington said, chuckling, “but I’m intrigued by it.”
Crow said he got the idea for the bill after seeing former Attorney General Larry EchoHawk’s radio spots touting the state’s consumer protection unit.
“I heard the Attorney General’s voice all over the radio for the last two to four years,” Crow said.
“If a cause is good enough to be the subject of a public service announcement, the cause can stand on its own,” he said.