At around 4:00 p.m., Sen. Wendy Davis tweeted the following photo promoting her upcoming campaign phonebank… during a Committee on Education hearing.
— Wendy Davis (@wendydavistexas) August 24, 2012
The tweet was posted from a computer, not a mobile device, so it was most likely posted by a staffer, not by the senator herself. Nevertheless, it speaks to an interesting ethical dilemma just beginning to emerge in the intersection between politics, government, and social media.
I was recently hired at the Office of the Governor, and one of the first things impressed upon us in our ethics training was this: Do not forward political material on state time. The context was forwarding campaign emails, which has gotten at least one person fired, but it also extends to social media and other forms of digital communication. Using taxpayer-funded resources, whether it’s a computer or just state time, to promote campaigns is a serious ethics violation. That’s why I’m careful to never blog or post about politics during work hours. (I can’t even access social media from my work computer.) If I schedule posts in advance, I make sure they don’t go out until my lunch break or after 5:00 p.m.
For legislators, who are also paid with taxpayer dollars, the lines are a little fuzzy.They don’t clock in and out, and they never technically stop being legislators. Rep. Aaron Peña was one of the first to address this in a recent Austin American-Statesman article.
Peña raised the question of elected officials — or their staffers — using social media to promote themselves as opposed to informing the public about issues.
“Some of it probably crosses the line on promotion, even campaigning, when they are using state equipment and time,” said Peña, who is retiring from public office next year.
As social media continues to evolve, ethical issues like this will gradually be resolved, whether through legislation or just mutual agreement. In my opinion, there are clearly times when it’s not appropriate to campaign. Committee hearings, internal meetings, office hours, and (obviously) time on the House or Senate floor are some of them.
What do you think? Where is the line drawn between multi-tasking and misusing taxpayer-funded resources?