Elected officials need to walk a tightrope between governing and campaigning. For example, an elected official will have a website for whatever elected office he or she holds (a government-owned website) to communicate as an elected official and then a separate one that is for campaigning and communicating as a politician. This results in multiple email databases, social media accounts, etc.
Somewhat recently we received several notifications on Facebook all at once and looked to see where they were originating. Jason Salus, who is the elected treasurer of Montgomery County and holds two positions within the Democratic Party locally, was sharing to various Facebook Groups a post made by his Montgomery County Treasurer Jason Salus Facebook page.
If you aren’t familiar with how Facebook works, people and businesses (which includes designations such as “Government Official”) are separated into two types of accounts. The notifications were resulting from Jason Salus (as a person) sharing a post made by him as a “Government Official.” That isn’t inappropriate, but a portion of the content of the post he shared was interesting. Here is the post he shared:
The red highlight in the above image was added by MoreThanTheCurve.com. Within this post the “Government Official” is instructing you to contact an email associated with his campaign website. As you can see below, two places on this website provide the opportunity to contribute to his campaign:
This isn’t the only example of Salus directing people to his campaign (or its social media accounts) from an official designation.
On the Montgomery County website (the real deal government website), on the page for the Montgomery County Treasurer’s Office there is one social media link. It is for the Twitter account @JasonSalus. We highlighted it in red in the below image.
If you take a look at this Twitter account, you will find that it a mix of information appropriate for him to share as elected Treasurer and some information that is purely political messaging. Here are two recent examples of political messaging (there are a ton):
Is Salus the only county official linking to a social media account sharing political information? As far as we can find, he is.
We looked at the county website and found that the three County Commissioners do not link to any social media. For the Row Officers, of which Salus is one, the Recorder of Deeds links to a Facebook page and Twitter account that share information about the work that office does and the county government. The Sheriff links to three social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) and shares governmental information from him as elected Sheriff. The District Attorney links to Facebook and Twitter accounts and both share governmental information from him as elected District Attorney. The Clerk of Courts, Prothonotary, Controller, Corner, Register of Wills and Jury Commissioners link to no social media accounts.
There are also potential issues with Salus’ use of Facebook. Lets look at an example of a politician separating his role as a “Government Official” and that of his role as a “Politician.”
Pennsylvania’s Attorney General, Josh Shapiro, has two accounts on Facebook (as do most elected officials). Salus has no such separation. He has a personal Facebook page (that is meant to be used with family and friends) and one Facebook business page where he designates himself as a “Government Official.” There is no “Politician” page.
In red we highlighted three things (the black circle covers a child’s face) from the Facebook page. The first is a phone number (484-679-5052). This number does not call the office of the Montgomery County Treasurer. That number is (610) 278-3066. We googled the number listed by Salus and the top results indicate its a number associated with his political fundraising (see below). The second item highlighted is the website listed. It is JasonSalus.com, his campaign website. The third item shows he lists himself as a “Government Official.”
If you look at the original post that generated this article (at the top of article), Salus’ post as a “Government Official” directs you to email his campaign email, email@example.com, to subscribe for the “Treasurer’s Bulletin,” an email newsletter. Below is a sample:
As you can see, and we highlighted, the “Treasurer’s Bulletin” comes from an email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, associated with his campaign website. It is sent via a Constant Contact account. So if you want to receive information from the Treasurer’s Office, it appears you have to give your contact information to a political campaign.
So where does that leave us? It generates a few questions:
- Is this any type of ethics violation?
- Are any county employees working on any of these items. For example, is the “Treasurer’s Bulletin” a publication of Jason Salus, the politician, or Jason Salus, the Treasurer? It comes from his campaign email address, but looks like an official correspondence from the Treasurer. Who pays for the Constant Contact account?
- Who maintains the social media accounts? Are public employees in the Treasurer’s Office involved?
- Within the Constant Contact account, how are the lists divided? Are there lists only dedicated to his campaign and others dedicated to those interested in receiving information from the Treasurer’s office? Does signing up for the “Treasurer’s Bulletin” also mean you sign-up for campaign emails? Why isn’t the county in control of a list that seeks information from a county office?
- When a new Treasurer takes office, will the list of emails be provided to the new Treasurer?
- When people needing to do business with the Treasurer’s office find the Facebook page and call the number listed on the Facebook page who answers? How is that call handled? Since it appears to be a number used in fundraising, is contributing to a campaign discussed?
We are not the only media concerned about politicians/government officials mixing social media. Randomly, Politico published an article yesterday about Ambassador Nikki Haley’s use of Twitter.
More to come.
Today we are going to seek comment from county and state officials.
Let us know what you think in the comments.