I have finally reached my fill of getting these U.S. Department of Agriculture news releases at work:
As the Obama Administration continues to support farmers and businesses impacted by the drought, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced a two-month extension for emergency grazing on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres, freeing up forage and feed for ranchers as they look to recover from this challenging time. …
“The Obama Administration is committed to helping the thousands of farm families and businesses who continue to struggle with this historic drought,” said Vilsack. “It is also important that our farmers, ranchers and agribusinesses have the tools they need to be successful in the long term. That’s why President Obama and I continue calling on Congress to pass a comprehensive, multi-year Food, Farm and Jobs Bill that will continue to strengthen American agriculture in the years to come, ensure comprehensive disaster assistance for livestock, dairy and specialty crop producers, and provide certainty for farmers and ranchers.”
At the direction of the President, Secretary Vilsack is helping coordinate an Administration-wide response that has included: the National Credit Union Administration’s increased capacity for lending to customers including farmers; the U.S. Department of Transportation’s emergency waivers for federal truck weight regulations and hours of service requirements to get help to drought-stricken communities; and the Small Business Administration’s issuance of 71 agency declarations in 32 states covering 1,636 counties, providing a pathway for small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives and non-farm small businesses that are economically affected by the drought in their community to apply for Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL). President Obama also stressed the need for the entire Administration to continue to look at further steps it can take to ease the pain of this historic drought. …
The Obama Administration, with Agriculture Secretary Vilsack’s leadership, has worked tirelessly to strengthen rural America, maintain a strong farm safety net, and create opportunities for America’s farmers and ranchers.
This is not a comment about the USDA. (If it was a comment about the USDA, it would include one of my favorite Ronald Reagan jokes, in which a family was touring the USDA headquarters, and walked past an office in which the occupant was sobbing. The family asked why the worker was crying, and their tour guide responded, “His farmer died.”) This is a comment about Vilsack’s USDA and how it apparently sees itself as an arm of the Obama 2012 campaign. (Not to mention, based on this news release, the DOT, the NCUA and the SBA.)
The USDA, and every other federal agency, is funded by our tax dollars. That means the tax dollars of Democrats, Republicans, independents and those who could not care less about politics. Whatever news value is in this news release is swamped by the blatant electioneering in this news release. (And before someone protests, this would be every bit as much inappropriate electioneering from a Republican administration.) And of course the release is missing the “Authorized and paid for” message found in political advertising.
Perhaps I missed something in the seven years I worked in public relations, but I do not recall the Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton or George W. Bush administrations sending out such politicized “news” releases. I do recall the Doyle administration sending out announcements that Gov. Jim Doyle approved some amount of money spent on a transportation project somewhere. Back in my business magazine days, I ran those releases, but with the self-aggrandizement replaced with “the state,” because Doyle could pay for his own political advertising. And if I get those now from the Walker administration, the same thing will happen. (For instance, this.)
The federal Hatch Act of 1939 prohibits federal employees from engaging in partisan political activity. Whoever wrote this news release touting “Agriculture Secretary Vilsack’s leadership” and the Obama administration’s working “tirelessly to strengthen rural America” is violating the Hatch Act, and should be prosecuted, or at least fired. The portion of your tax dollars that go to the USDA is being used to tout Obama among farmers, without your permission. And to Vilsack this must be OK since if Obama goes, so does Vilsack.
It makes me think I should count the number of electoral votes in states designated as disaster areas this summer. It also makes me happy I’m not involved in farming, since this news release makes me think that, as a publicly self-identified Obama opponent, the USDA would find some way to deny me the services I would otherwise entitled to. Is that unfair? Prove my belief incorrect.
(On Facebook last night I read a story of someone who lives in the Second Congressional District who doesn’t share the political viewpoints of its U.S. representative, or former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold (D–Wisconsin), and wanted and got help on a constituent matter from neither. By that standard I expect no help from U.S. Rep. Ron Kind (D–La Crosse), ever.)
I’d like to say this sort of thing, partisan politics where it doesn’t belong, doesn’t happen in Wisconsin. That would be a lie. County law enforcement is politicized because those in county law enforcement — sheriffs, district attorneys, clerks of circuit court, even coroners — and the state attorney general are either Democrats or Republicans. County government is politicized because county government — clerks, registers of deeds, and even surveyors — are either Democrats or Republicans. The secretary of state is a Democrat, and the treasurer is a Republican, as if keeping the state seal (in the former case) or administering state trust funds (in the latter case) should be partisan tasks.
People wonder why our politics is so nasty, and why political disagreements have leaked out into the rest of life. Well, this is one reason. Politicians should never be mentioned, referenced or included in any other way in news releases from government agencies. (And one way to do that is to drastically reduce the number of political appointees in the federal and state government. In the state Capitol, for instance, that includes everyone in every agency from the title of “executive assistant” upward.)
Using government resources for political campaigns is wrong and should be illegal at every level of government. That particularly includes self-promoting news releases written by government employees at the behest of their bosses.