Andrew Thomas, who is up for re-election this November, is again doing what he seems to be best at (other than blatantly harassing the media should they criticize him): pushing the ethical envelope to serve his political ambitions and ideological viewpoint.
He distributed a crime prevention booklet to Maricopa residents (Download the booklet) through the distribution networks of local newspapers (at an as-yet undisclosed cost to taxpayers) without any notice to, or specific funding from the Maricopa Board of Supervisors.
Deanne Poulos, the communications director for the board of supervisors, said the members were not told about the project and only found out after the booklets were distributed Friday morning. “At this time we’re still searching for a funding source,” she said. [E.V. Tribune]
Nor is this the first time that Thomas has blatantly used taxpayer money to get his name prominently before the voters of Maricopa. "Recently, Thomas has been criticized for spending $2.5 million in public money since he took office in 2005 to pay for public service advertisements that promote his name." [E.V. Tribune]
Most recently, Thomas kicked off an anti-DUI billboard campaign where his name is splashed in a broad red strip with large lettering across the bottom. The letters used for Thomas’ name are nearly as large as the letters in the board’s message.[E.V. Tribune]
Let me make perfectly clear that I think the idea of a County Attorney issuing a crime prevention guide is laudable and forward-thinking. To the extent that the purpose and effect of this publication is to reduce crime, I applaud and credit CA Thomas for publishing it.
But the devil lies in the details, as always...
Electioneering through Public Service Campaigns
I'm not overly fond of incumbents using their status to campaign by stealth on the public dime by prominently placing their names and faces on public interest advertising. I don't care for the practice no matter the party of the incumbent. I is simply another corrupt and damaging perq of incumbency that we would be much better off without.
State Senator Jim Waring (R - Phoenix) has introduced very even-handed and useful legislation, SB1061, to combat the practice. The language is, in my opinion, a bit too simplistic at this point and it clearly needs some work in committee, but it is a solid start on a problem that too few office-holders (being incumbents by definition) are willing to back.
Whither the Money?
Board members say they didn't authorize funding for the 45 page booklet, nor were they aware of plans to distribute it, even though the booklet clearly claims just that.
So where did the money to write, print, and distribute this work come from? Were funds diverted from other sources? Was that diversion lawful or unauthorized? Thomas needs to make this clear. He undoubtedly has done a mitzvah for the community with the publication of this handbook, but has he done it in his normal, autocratic, high-handed fashion?
Public Domain or Thomas' Domain?
So if the handbook was produced by a public officer, using public money to write, print, and distribute it, it belongs to the public, right? Wrong. It belongs to the County Attorney's office exclusively, apparently. There are public commons copyright licenses available that protect legitimate commercial interests, yet would place this work firmly into the public commons, where it belongs. Instead, Thomas has chosen to restrict the use of the publication so that reprinting, and even excerpts, require his permission.
Why would Thomas seek to deprive the public of free use of something that they clearly own? Is my posting of the booklet for download a publication? I wonder if maybe even the use of excerpts that I am going to present here in discussing the work (used quite specifically without the permission of the Maricopa County Attorney's office) might violate Thomas' view of his rights to the work. What I am doing is quite clearly fair use for the purpose of criticism. But I'll be interested to see if I, or my ISP, get a take-down notice.
As Always With Thomas, IMMIGRANTS ARE THE SOURCE OF ALL EVIL!
Perhaps the worst abuse of the public's money I see here is the inclusion of Thomas' anti-immigration clipping service website and newsletter under the 'Illegal Immigration and Crime" section. I am deeply troubled by the ethics of a public official maintaining what is essentially a partisan ideological organ of propaganda with public money. I think that this site, and it's inclusion in this booklet, deserves very close examination as to its propriety, ethics, and legality.
There is nothing non-partisan or merely informational about the IllegalImmigrationJournal.com. It is hardcore anti-immigration and the site makes no disclaimers as to the content not being the official position or opinion of the Maricopa County Attorney's office. It merely presents some of the most extreme voices on the immigration issue in a fashion which seems calculated to lead readers to conclude that Thomas endorses the material presented - which, I suppose, is the whole point of this official digital propaganda bullhorn.
Let's take a look at just a few of the items I found on the site:
Though it is marked 'Commentary' the clear implication is that the Maricopa County Attorney's office approves of calling John McCain, "Amnesty John". That's fine I suppose from Thomas to say himself, but doing so on an officially sponsored web site of the Maricopa County Attorney's office seems perhaps a touch too close to the Maricopa CA's office actually electioneering in the Republican primary.
More electioneering against McCain, this time from Human Events, one of the most extreme Right Wing partisan propaganda outlets in the county. Again, I don't personally care about McCain at all (though full disclosure compels me to admit I gave him a contribution after NH in 1999 in hopes of staving off a W Presidency), but I don't think many Maricopa residents would appreciate their tax dollars being used to electioneer in this way.
This clipping seems perfectly non-partisan, just a study saying that all states need to be prepared for emergencies. Well, yeah, until you look at the by-line. This is put out by Family Security Matters, the same folks who published the infamous peice "Conquering the Drawbacks of Democracy" about how Bush should just scrap the Constitution, become President for life, and genocide the Iraqis, which was so toxic and repellent that it got rammed so hard down the memory hole it is hard to find it anymore. The same organization advocated invading Mexico and simply enslaving the population for cheap labor here in the U.S.. Nice folks...
Here's just a few more examples of clear electioneering, issue advocacy, and naked immigrant baiting that really has no place on a publicly funded website:
Townhall, Newsmax: some of the most partisan and vitriolic Right Wing sites on the net being presented, endorsed, and paid for by Maricopa's taxpayers.
I can't say if it's actually rotten, but sure doesn't smell like anything I'd be willing to swallow.