Public Service or Politicking on Public Funds?

By: Kallie Cart Email
By: Kallie Cart Email

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- It's an old issue, but a new controversy at the Capitol -- all centered on a poster. Some say it's one side playing politics, while others say it's politicking on public funds.

The questions surround a poster put out by the Secretary of State's office. It features all of the public office holders in West Virginia and their contact information. But the concern is over Secretary Natalie Tennant's picture, which is larger than the rest and placed at the top.

"It's got the Secretary of State as the primary person in West Virginia to hold an elected office, and it's under the auspices of a civics lesson," Republican Delegate Mitch Carmichael says. "I thought, 'Are you kidding me?' This is selfless, shameless, self promotion."

Tennant is running for governor in this year's special election. Carmichael is considering a run, too.

Tennant says the poster is a civics lesson. She says it's distributed to schools and constituents to explain the flow of state government. It was distributed with other educational items, which also bear her name.

"I call that accountability, and I think that's what this poster does, it holds me accountable," Tennant says. "It's very unfortunate because we should not be talking about a poster, we should be talking about jobs."

But for Delegate Kelli Sobonya, R-Cabell, the issue brings new life to a bill she calls the "trinket bill."

"Even though this practice has been legal, we have to question if it's ethical or not," Sobonya says.

She's introduced legislation for nine years that would wipe out names and pictures on any item paid for with public funds.

Sobonya says the bill was prompted by actions from Attorney General Darrell McGraw. She says his advertising budget skyrocketed to nearly $700,000 in 2004.

Also in 2004, he fired an employee for using taxpayer dollars to print his name on pens, pillboxes and magnets during the election year. The employee claimed he told her to do that.

State GOP Chair Mike Stuart also has criticized several radio advertisements that currently air. He says one has a jingle singing McGraw's name. called McGraw for comment and went to his office, but he was unavailable.

The trinket bill has never been taken up for debate, and it doesn't look like it's going anywhere this year.

Tennant says her office spent $2,000 on the posters and that several lawmakers requested them, even those who have been critical of the posters.

Tennant says she was hoping to release the posters prior to the session but because the leadership structure was unclear, she says that caused a delay.

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