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Shining a Light on Government Advertisements

Brandon Arnold
December 20, 2013

We’ve been exposed to all sorts of ads promoting Obamacare lately – from beer-guzzling fraternity “bros” to the recent “pajama boy.” Fortunately, Americans are starting to ask if these ads are being paid for with taxpayer funds.

Such questions are certainly warranted given the federal government’s history of wasting public resources.  For example, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) just pointed out in his “Wastebook 2013” that the federal government took $65 million of the emergency funds provided for Hurricane Sandy disaster relief and spent it on tourism ads for New York and New Jersey.

It’s clear that the government needs to provide more transparency and sunshine about its expenditures. Last month, former National Taxpayers Union Foundation intern Curtis Kalin identified some of the features of the “Taxpayer Transparency Act,” which was introduced by Rep. Billy Long (R-MO). The bill would require government agencies to disclose the use of taxpayer funding in any print, online, radio or television advertisements.  This seemingly small step could go a long way to helping people understand how their tax dollars are being used (and misused).  Speaking for National Taxpayers Union, I’m pleased to hear that Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) will soon introduce companion legislation in the Senate.  

In an ideal world, politicians and government agencies wouldn’t squander public funds on advertisements. But until we can achieve more fiscal discipline in Washington, we need legislation like the bills introduced by Rep. Long and Sen. Blunt so we’ll at least know when our money is being spent on such activities.


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