June 23, 2010

Taxpayer money spent on ballot questions?

This should certainly raise some eyebrows:

Public resources are being used to advocate one controversial ballot initiative and block another, drawing criticism about tax dollars entering politicized battles.

Gov. Jim Gibbons’ administration has drafted the Gibbons Open Government Initiative and will continue working to qualify it for the ballot. It would require local governments and unions to negotiate contracts in public, long a goal of conservatives who say public employee pay is too high.

The law is clear: "a public officer or employee shall not request or otherwise cause a governmental entity to incur an expense or make an expenditure to support or oppose ... [a] ballot question."

Governor Gibbons has said he is advocating for the ballot measure as a private citizen, which is fine. However, his Deputy Chief of Staff Stacy Woodbury contradicts that by noting in the Sun article that staff time has been used to work on the ballot question and write up instructions for signature gatherers. Assuming those staffers were paid, how does this not run into conflict with the law? Their wages are clearly "an expense," right?

Ms. Woodbury can claim creating a ballot measure is no different than drafting a bill for the Legislature, but she is mistaken. State law explicitly forbids public employees from incurring expenses while supporting or opposing ballot questions but says nothing about drafting bills.

Breaking ethics rules in order to pass a ballot measure strengthening transparency rules is unacceptable, no matter how worthwhile it is.