Stop using government e-mail for political purposes
I’ve written about this before, but three incidents from the last few days make me think it’s time to say it again: It’s not appropriate to use government e-mail for political purposes.
If you have any doubt about that, the director of the state personnel office sent an e-mail to all state employees in 2008 making it clear that using the state e-mail system for distributing political messages or engaging in political activity is prohibited.
“Any engagement in the distribution of political messages and/or political activity by an employee while on duty and/or via state equipment will not be tolerated,” the director, Sandra K. Perez, wrote.
Two years later, it’s still happening – and it is being tolerated, at least in some state agencies.
Consider three recent examples:
- As I reported earlier this week, an exchange between Secretary of State Mary Herrera and her former office spokesman using their government e-mail accounts was very obviously about politics.
- Last week, I received a guest column submission from a second statewide elected official that makes the argument for why he should be re-elected on Nov. 2. It was sent to me by an employee of that official’s office from her government e-mail account. The e-mail reveals that the employee was directed to send me the column by a higher-ranking employee of that office, using his government e-mail account.
- I received another guest column submission this week from the communications director for a third statewide elected official. The column is a defense of what the office has done during the last four years and makes clear that it’s in response to recent political attacks against the official, who is also up for re-election on Nov. 2. The e-mail was sent from the communications director’s government account and includes the logo for the official’s government office.
None of this is appropriate. Yet it’s being done, and it’s being tolerated.
A slippery slope
Is this sort of thing really a big deal? Some have pointed out to me that the cost of sending an e-mail is virtually nothing, so taxpayer resources aren’t being used – at least much – to send political e-mails from government accounts.
Such arguments miss the point entirely. It’s true that, on a practical level, the effect on taxpayers is nearly nothing when someone logs in to his or her government e-mail, instead of a personal account, to send a political message. But there’s larger issue to consider.
Government in this state is plagued by ethical problems, conflicts of interest, and appearances of impropriety. These e-mails are an indicator of the culture of tolerance for shenanigans that exists in state government.
If a government official or employee is willing to cross a line when only an e-mail is involved, what happens when a more significant ethical question arises? What happens when an employee is tempted to use his government vehicle to run personal errands without reporting the mileage? What happens when a family member bids on a state contract? What about when an employee is offered a bribe?
Tolerating the use of government e-mail for political reasons not only creates an appearance of impropriety – it is the start of a trek down a slippery slope that can lead to all sorts of wrongdoing.
It’s good that our state personnel office doesn’t tolerate the use of the state e-mail system for political reasons. Our elected officials – and their employees – should follow suit.
5 comments so far. Scroll down to submit your own comment.
Leave a response
You must be logged in to post a comment.