We sure don’t know how the money was spent on it.
On a television ad airing ahead of Election Day, Texas Secretary of State Carlos Cascos declares: “It’s voting season in Texas.”
The 30-second spot tailored by international public relations giant Burson-Marsteller is supposed to serve as a quick explainer to educate Texans on new voter ID requirements ordered by a federal court.
Yet, Cascos and state officials say they cannot reveal where the secretary of state’s office is spending taxpayer money to broadcast those ads and the names of an estimated 1,800 community groups partnering with Texas to circulate voter ID information at the local level.
Texas is using the lion’s share of a $2.5 million voter education effort on paid media and outreach to community organizations, but has refused over the course of months to provide details of how and where it’s spending public money for the public education campaign.
Texas’ main argument to withhold the information boils down to this: Burson-Marsteller drew up the plans and provided them to the state under contract as “proprietary” information.
A federal judge in August sealed records related to ad buy markets and community groups targeted to receive “digital tool kits” with updated voter ID information. The secretary of state’s office has since used the court seal as one of its reasons to deny media inquiries for the information.
Along with documents related to the current outreach program, the secretary of state’s office has refused to disclose information related to ad buys and market placement for a voter education campaign in 2014, the first statewide election cycle in which the voter ID law was used. The agency also will not release the name of a state lawmaker it wrote a letter addressing details of the 2014 education effort.
See here for some background. I’m sorry, but public money being spent by a public agency is something the public should know about. If Burston-Marstellar couldn’t handle the job without fear of having its “proprietary” secrets revealed, then we should have hired a different firm. I don’t even see the argument for secrecy here. And then there’s this:
According to a court document, Texas planned to send “digital tool kits” to 1,800 community groups with updated voter ID information as part of a strategy that “capitalizes on the connections community groups and organizations have to share information.”
Elaine Wiant, president of the League of Women Voters of Texas, said her organization was never contacted by the secretary of state’s office or Burson-Marsteller, despite being one of the largest active groups doing voter outreach.
“We’ve had many communications with the secretary of state’s office on this,” she said, “and it is a bit surprising they’re engaging with community organizations and not including us.”
On Friday, the secretary of state’s office said it had sent out more than 1,800 digital tool kits to date and that the agency has been in regular contact with the League of Women Voters of Texas, including sharing information about its education efforts and having Cascos speak at events with local chapters.
In the absence of a detailed accounting of how the money was spent, we are forced to take the SOS’s word for it that they have done what they were supposed to do. I see no reason why we should do that.