It has been a rough couple of days for State Superintendent Glenda Ritz. Her announcement with Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg of a plan to fund statewide pre-k received little attention, and her nomination at the Democratic State Convention was overshadowed by ethics questions.
The Associated Press’ Brian Slodysko reported that a Ritz official took a job with a company with which he brokered a state contract. That appears to be a violation of the state ethics laws passed in 2010, and the GOP has called for an investigation.
Problem is, that might not be the only ethics violation by Superintendent Ritz.
Lately, we’ve been hearing radio ads on WIBC with Supt. Ritz promoting the Summer Food Services Program (SFSP). In the ad, Ritz uses her own voice and states her name while promoting this valuable program that helps feed needy kids when they are on summer break.
The program is great. As someone who works with disadvantaged kids, I understand how important a school lunch is, as well as the need to provide meals when school isn’t in session. No one is questioning the validity of the program, but you can question how it’s being promoted.
The 2010 ethics law passed by the General Assembly makes it illegal for an elected official to use her name or likeness in an ad.
(d) A state officer may not use the state officer’s name or likeness in a communication paid for entirely or in part with appropriations made by the general assembly, regardless of the source of the money. IC 4-2-6-15
If Ritz and her team were using federal dollars, it would be a clever way to skirt around the issue. The General Assembly doesn’t appropriate school lunch or SFSP money; it flows straight from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. So even though it’s still public money funding a radio ad in a campaign season, it’s not strictly against Indiana statute.
The problem is, the Indiana Department of Education publishes it’s SFSP Management and Administration Plan on its website. There is a lot in there about salaries and promotion through social and earned media, but there is a no mention of radio ads or PSAs. So if Ritz isn’t paying for these drive-time ads with SFSP administrative money, where is it coming from?
Even if everything here is legal, the timing and the content of the ads is questionable at best. Four months from the election, Glenda Ritz is getting air time on WIBC without dipping into her campaign coffers. WIBC is a large radio station with more listeners in Indy suburbs than in the areas where the summer food programs are needed the most.