Gov. Kenneth Mapp appears to be making the most of the bully pulpit of the governorship to help his campaign, calling more and more official news conferences as the election nears.
Those gatherings often tout successes that might be not necessarily be attributable to the Mapp administration. For example, a Nov. 1 official V.I. government statement from Government House is headlined: “Recovery Successes Cited by Governor at Packed Town Hall Meeting. ” The official government statement says there was a “standing-room only crowd,” then lists what it calls administration “achievements” that are actions not of the Mapp administration but of the federal government, such as federal roofing assistance, federal unemployment assistance and federal assistance to farmers.
The Government House statement includes a photo of Mapp and Lt. Gov. Osbert Potter laughing and smiling as if they were just told they won the election.
The line between the campaign and government is blurred, not only by the sudden uptick in triumphal government-sponsored press events but in regular news releases from Government House.
For example, on Oct. 15, Government House issued a statement crowing about a report in Bond Buyer Magazine that after a sharp drop in value last year, some V.I. government bonds are selling at nearly their face value.
“The prices of U.S. Virgin Islands Bonds, a bellwether of the public markets’ confidence in the Virgin Islands economy, have roared back, according to recent financial reports,.” Government House asserted in an official government release issued Oct. 15 at 1:53 p.m.
“The prices of U.S. Virgin Islands Bonds, a bellwether of the public markets’ confidence in the Virgin Islands economy, have roared back, according to recent financial reports,” the Mapp/Potter campaign said in campaign literature sent Oct. 15 at 11:07 p.m.
The rest of the campaign release and taxpayer-funded Government House release are also identical, word for word, from beginning to end.
V.I. law bans government employees from doing campaign work and prohibits government employers from commanding employees to do so. The uptick in self-praiseful activity right before the election uses government resources to cast the candidate in a good light before the election, which benefits the campaign.
No complaint has been filed and no court has found a violation. And making a legal determination of the difference between normal dissemination of public information versus actively campaigning for election may be difficult.
The Source reached out to Attorney General Claude Walker and asked for his legal opinion on the propriety of the overlap between campaign and official government communications and the identical wording in at least one instance. Walker responded, calling the multiple paragraphs of identical material as a “mere coincidental instance of alleged similarity in prose.”
The V.I. attorney general continued with a campaign-style stump speech, saying the “miraculous recovery of the territory, after two category five hurricanes about a year ago, and its current booming economy under the stewardship of Governor Kenneth E. Mapp represent great news for the Virgin Islands. Such great news is obvious for all fair-minded persons to observe, appreciate and engage in exultation, if they so desire.”
Others suggested that once a news release is issued, it is in the public domain, in the same fashion that newspapers commonly reprint news releases, so there should be no difficulty for a campaign to do the same. But a newspaper and a reporter do not work for or exist to benefit a particular elected official. V.I. law, like most states and federal law, prohibit government officials from directing government employees to help their campaigns or from providing anything at all of value to the campaign.
In this instance, government employees produced material suitable for the campaign without any alteration. But it is also far from the first time a government office has issued a press release that casts that office in a good light.
The Source reached out to several other Mapp administration officials, including spokesperson Sandra Goomansingh, but no other official would respond on the record.