Galvin mixes public service, promotion

Records: $2m spent on ads in one year

AN ELDERLY MAN speaks dispiritedly on a TV public service announcement about having been a victim of financial fraud.  But his frown quickly morphs into a big smile as he talks about how Secretary of State William Galvin got him his money back.

“I like to bring good news,” says Galvin on the ad. “If you’ve been the victim of financial fraud, we might be able to help. Call me.”

The public service announcement is another in a long line that Galvin has been running at taxpayer expense since he took office 25 years ago. From April 2019 to March 2020, Galvin spent close to $2 million of taxpayer money to produce and air five different public service announcements, according to documents obtained under the public records law.

The announcements undoubtedly perform a public service by alerting the public to the services Galvin’s office provides. But they also serve as a form of taxpayer-funded advertising for Galvin the politician.

“This is right out of the Massachusetts politicians’ playbook,” said Mary Connaughton, director of government transparency at the Pioneer Institute in Boston. “While not unlawful, using such advertising that conveniently promotes name recognition has been a longstanding practice in the Commonwealth. It’s high time to rein it in.”

Galvin declined requests for an interview for this story, and did not respond to questions submitted to him in writing.

Galvin hands out no-bid contracts to produce the public service announcements and buy air time to three companies— First Team Solutions of Walpole, SKDKnickerbocker from Washington, DC, and National Boston in Brookline.

Besides securities fraud, Galvin’s public service announcements deal with voter registration, early voting, Census surveys, and confidentiality for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking.

The public service announcements appear on all the major local TV stations as well as many of the smaller outlets in Boston and Springfield, including Spanish-language stations.

The only other state constitutional officer who runs similar announcements is the state treasurer. Former treasurer Steven Grossman used to put his name on ads for recovering unclaimed property, but he eventually had second thoughts and removed his name from the ads, some of which are required by law.

The current treasurer, Deborah Goldberg, also does not put her name on the ads.  The only identifying information found on them is “Office of the State Treasurer and Receiver General — Unclaimed Property Division.”

Last November, the State Ethics Commission issued a six-page “public education letter” to Galvin chiding him for using the voter information booklets he is required to prepare to tout his personal achievements as secretary of state – a longstanding criticism of Galvin.

 Peter Loge, an associate professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University in Washington, DC, recommends that states rein in inappropriate communications by public officials by requiring an independent commission to review all ads. “Any public communications would promote only the topic, not the elected official,” he said.