Same Old Song

West Virginia Auditor – and Parkersburg native – Glen Gainer III this week asked the state Ethics Commission for an opinion on his participation in a recent online advertisement for Visa regarding the state of West Virginia’s Purchasing Card program. Gainer’s appearance in the spot was rightfully criticized as a violation of the state’s Ethics Law, prompting his request to the commission.

He shouldn’t have a very long wait for the decision. The commission could just refer him to its August 2012 ruling on a similar matter.

Visa, which removed the link to the advertisement from its website on Monday following the controversy, featured Gainer touting the benefits of the company’s “P-cards” used by the state agencies when making purchases. The cards are managed by Gainer’s office.

Gainer defended his appearance by saying West Virginia’s participation in the program saves the state $145 million a year. And he says he and the four other state officials who appeared in the videos did not make any money.

Gainer does tout the program in the video, but it is another aspect that probably got Gainer in hot water. While the video includes shots of the Capitol and the West Virginia state flag, it also shows a Gainer campaign button saying, “Elect Gainer Auditor.”

Gainer said the buttons were his from his father’s – who also was the state auditor – former campaigns. However, that refrain is similar to a song West Virginians have heard before. The whole episode is reminiscent of some of the things former Attorney General Darrell McGraw was known for doing to promote himself.

The law prohibits public officials from using the “prestige of his or her office” for the private gain of an individual or a business. And in the August decision referred to earlier, the commission wrote it “is unable to envision a circumstance where a public servant could appear, or be referenced, in an advertisement for a product, service or business without violating the Ethics Act.”

Gainer certainly knew that, or at least should have checked before agreeing to participate. But, unfortunately, like McGraw before him, Gainer knew by appearing in this promotion, he was not just promoting Visa’s “P-cards,” he was also promoting Glen Gainer.