Sheriff Clarke’s Bizarre New Radio Ads
They combine campaign ads and a pitch for a private company and appear to be in violation of state laws.
Sheriff David A. Clarke has just launched a new series of weird radio ads. This in itself is no story, since Clarke in the past has created a number of Public Service Announcements promoting gun ownership or discouraging listeners from calling 911 in emergencies.
What makes the new ads different is that Clarke is acting as a commercial pitchman for a for-profit company.
The new Clarke ads, all in supremely bad taste, are for iNET, which calls itself “the Waukesha web development company building Creative Genius.” iNET also created the website for Clarke’s campaign.
Murphy wrote: ”Sheriff David Clarke has created some bizarre radio ads that combine a pitch for him with a plug for a company called Inet. Is this legal? I have no idea, but it hardly matters, the ads are so amateurish they are only going to make the increasingly silly sheriff look like a cheap huckster.”
Wigderson too had qualms about the legality of the ads. “I don’t know if it’s illegal (we may be in uncharted territory) but it’s just really, really wrong,” he wrote. To remind us we are dealing with reality, Clarke-style, Wigderson added, “These ads endorsing iNet of Waukesha are not parodies. These are actual ads that are on Clarke’s website and running on the radio.”
However, under the state ethics code, local officials may not “receive items or services offered because of their public position, unless the value of such items or services is insubstantial.”
It could be argued that Clarke would have no earthly reason to be a pitchman for the company that created his website were not a quid pro quo involved.
It raises campaign finance issues as well. A company could conceivably provide a website to a candidate as an in-kind donation, which would be reflected in campaign finance reports as both a receipt and a disbursement.
However, the January 2014 Clarke campaign finance report shows a cash disbursement of $3,750 to iNET. It was the campaign’s largest single expense. It was not recorded as an in-kind donation. The new reports are not due until July.
But if Clarke recorded the four ads for iNET in (partial or full) exchange for the firm’s work on his website, Clarke then introduces a third element into the equation. This may put him afoul of GAB regulations, which prohibit (for now, at least) “contributions from cooperatives or corporations.” That is, if iNET provides a website for Clarke and then Clarke provides four advertisements for iNET, the effect is that the iNET corporation has made a contribution to the Clarke campaign.
So, let’s say Clarke instead just simply decided to create the advertisements for iNET as a part-time job, sort of moonlighting, shall we say.
This may put the sheriff afoul of Sec. 19.59(1)(a) of Wisconsin Statutes affecting use of office for private gain.
“Public officials are prohibited from using their offices to obtain financial gain or anything of substantial value for the private benefit of themselves, their immediate families, or organizations with which they are associated.
Clarke is clearly identified as the Sheriff in the ads for the internet company, so there should be no doubt that his office is being used by the internet company for its commercial benefit.
In exchange, it could be argued that the campaign advertisements for the sheriff created by iNET were something of “substantial value,” for the benefit of Clarke personally, or his campaign, which is certainly an organization with which he is associated.
We will have to await the next round of campaign finance filings to work our way through this morass, although there is a good chance the GAB will weigh in before that.
You would think this would be an excellent topic for the sheriff’s opponent in the August Democratic primary election to weigh in on.
However, Sachin Chheda, the chair of the Chris Moews for Sheriff campaign, wrote this in response: “No comment at this time. My understanding is that Clarke has been doing ads for iNET for a while, but we just learned about it last week. We’re looking into it.”
Sheriff David Clarke Jr. 30 Second Radio Ad – Gun Talk
Sheriff David Clarke Jr. Radio Ad – Gun Shots
Sheriff David Clarke Jr. Radio Ad – Woman Screaming
Sheriff David Clarke Jr. 30 Second Radio Ad – Got the Message
What if Clarke Loses?
If David Clarke loses the primary election for sheriff he will not necessarily go riding off into the sunset. Clarke is on a leave of absence from the Milwaukee Police Department, and could conceivably return there to run up his pension balance until retirement. This raises the specter of Clarke being subordinate to Chief Edward Flynn, a compelling prospect journalistically. However, some feel that Clarke’s days as a radio pitchman are still before him, and envision his return to private enterprise in front of a microphone somewhere.
Sheriff David Clarke Jr. 30 Second Radio Ad