CBS 5: AZ Sec. of State Taking Heat for Proposed Election Education Ads

By Jason Barry, CBS 5

A new controversy is brewing over a voter education drive that Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett wants to launch, leading up to the November election. Bennett told CBS5 that there were a lot of problems during the 2012 election with voter registration, provisional ballots and early ballot lists, so he decided to educate voters with some TV ads to help things run smoother this year.

"When you have a couple million people vote in a statewide election, it's important to help every voter vote in the most efficient way they can," said Bennett. The only problem is, Bennett is running for Governor this year, and critics argue that putting himself in a series of TV spots would give Bennett free airtime at taxpayers expense.

Sam Wercinski is executive director of the Arizona Advocacy Network, a non-partisan government watchdog group. Wercinski said this is a clear conflict of interest and suggested Bennett not appear in the ads.

"If he runs ads where he is personally shown in the ads, he's going to be compared to the attorney general, for using his office the same way attorney general (Tom) Horne is, for the benefit of his campaign," said Wercinski.

Last week, Bennett reached out to the state's Citizens' Clean Election Commission to explain the type of ads he wants to run and how they will have no campaign wording or endorsement type language. He told CBS 5 that he's appeared in ads like this before and is not doing anything wrong.

"I'm not taking advantage of my duties in office," said Bennett. "I am fulfilling the responsibilities and the duty I have as chief elections officer of this state."

Bennett appeared in a TV ad on voters with disabilities a couple years ago. Gov. Jan Brewer also appeared in ads for the one cent sales tax, during an election year in 2010.

The Clean Elections Commission is expected to make a ruling on the issue in the next few weeks. The ads have not yet been produced.

The original article is available here.