Free Advertising for the Incumbent


Last month, Moderate Party founder and current unaligned candidate for governor Ken Block expressed incredulity that Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, also running for governor, should be permitted to put his face on billboards along Route 95 advertising a new musical playing in the city (with further comment here).  This week, a passing van caught in a picture on RI Is My Home (in cropped version above) shows that gratuitous advertising is apparently a more common practice for the Providence incumbent.

The city ordinance cited on the Graffiti Task Force’s Web page is dated June 2006, and a press release dated from that month states that the two “power-wash vans wrapped in bold, colorful messages” were “unveiled” during the David Cicilline administration.  A picture in a 2008 newsletter from the Cicilline administration indicates that Mayor Taveras had his own name painted over that of his predecessor.

Either way, Block’s suggestion about the billboards applies, wondering on Twitter whether it would be acceptable for “some of my vendors to put up a billboard with my pic and a msg of thanks 4 all of my biz over the yrs.”  In recent years, campaign-finance hawks have been working to tighten the laws to increase reporting requirements (including directly on printed materials and in recorded advertisements) for both candidates and issue advocacy, which critics have suggested could suppress donations and political activity.

The concurrent usage of public office to market politicians (seen across levels of government, including in President Obama’s insertion of himself into the histories of prior administrations) ought to come in for at least as much scrutiny.  Otherwise, we may be headed for a time when firemen will post signs on front lawns declaring, “This house saved by Mayor X.”

  • Dan

    One reason why incumbents maintain a reelection rate well over 90% is they can legally "advertise" themselves and their efforts to voters with taxpayer money, official resources, and public time, as long as they don't call it campaigning and avoid using certain key words. There is nothing preventing the Providence mayor from sending out tomorrow, on your dime, an FYI letter to every voter in Providence detailing his office's accomplishments and planned projects, even though it is functionally equivalent to campaigning. I don't know what the solution to this problem is aside from imposing one- or two-term limits for all RI officeholders – a measure I would support.

  • mangeek

    It’s not new. When I moved back to Pawtucket, I noticed that the elderly transport vans all said “Mayor James Doyle” on them… And so did the signs marking city limits, and all the recycle bins, and the elderly towers themselves.

    It ought to be a state law that a standing official’s name or likeness cannot be used on any city property.

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