Sheriff Clarke's pro-gun radio ads will be paid by taxpayers
Feb 23, 2013 (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. has been showered with free media time, including four appearances on two national cable TV outlets, to espouse his support for citizens arming themselves for self-protection.
But the local radio ads that launched the whirlwind of attention for Clarke were paid spots that will be billed to taxpayers through the sheriff's county budget, Clarke said Friday.
"Every penny we spend belongs to the taxpayers of this county," Clarke said in an email response. "We use public funds on public education as a means to work with people on ways designed to keep them safe. It's called crime prevention."
Clarke's department has an $84.9 million budget for 2013, with 85% coming from property taxes. Most of the rest comes from state and federal funds.
"The ads will be paid for using (sheriff's) agency moneys," Sheriff's Inspector Edward Bailey wrote in response to questions from the Journal Sentinel. The department spends a portion of its operating budget "for announcements, billboards and educational campaigns that have public safety, crime reduction and traffic safety messages," Bailey wrote.
The exact amount being spent on the gun-themed ads couldn't be determined from invoices and other records provided by the Sheriff's Department. They showed Clarke's office has agreed to buy more than $17,000 in radio ads this year, including the gun-themed ads. But the stations haven't yet billed the department for those ads, said Fran McLaughlin, Clarke's spokeswoman. Those spots first aired Jan. 24 on WISN-AM (1130).
The department booked $10,920 worth of ads at five local stations, including WISN, owned by Clear Channel, according to records. An additional $6,420 was booked with WTMJ-AM (620). Journal Communications, the parent company of WTMJ, also owns the Journal Sentinel.
The rates for the ads varied from $70 to $95 for a 30-second spot. The $95 rate for WTMJ radio ads was touted as "a significant rate concession due to the public safety announcement nature of the spot," in an email to the Sheriff's Department from Jeff Solie, an account manager for the station.
Clarke's radio ads suggest the public can't count on quick enough police response to an emergency 911 call and should consider getting gun training "so you can defend yourself until we get there." The spots drew strong reaction from those both for and against the message, delivered in the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn., mass shooting and as the national debate over gun control has heated up.
Critics have said the ads discourage people from using 911 and instead promote gun proliferation. Supporters say Clarke accurately described the need for citizens to take responsibility for their families' personal safety.
In an email, Clarke said his paid radio spots were not gun ads, but public safety announcements.
Supervisor John Weishan Jr. said the sheriff's ads did not qualify as something that promotes general welfare and safety and were an inappropriate use of public money.
"There is a way to do public service announcements to promote public safety," Weishan said. "This has nothing to do with public safety and everything to do with self-promotion."
County Executive Chris Abele said he didn't view the ads as public service announcements, but he didn't question whether it was OK to use public money on them.
"He gets to make his choices," Abele said, then added: "Does anybody think this radio ad was the best use of that money " Abele said he would not spend county money that way.
If emergency 911 response time was truly Clarke's concern, he could have addressed that better by talking to local police instead of running the ad, Abele said.
Clarke, in his email, said disliking his message "doesn't make it political. When working with people to keep them safe becomes 'political,' we're all in trouble.
"I will not be deterred or dissuaded by anyone from my responsibility to help people protect themselves."
He questioned whether the January trip that Mayor Tom Barrett and Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn took to Minneapolis for the Mayors Against Guns conference was a political trip. Clarke has called the gun violence summit "nothing more than a masked attempt to infringe on law-abiding people's Second Amendment protection."
Patrick Curley, Barrett's chief of staff, said the Minneapolis trip was not political. Curley said the full cost was paid for by the Joyce Foundation and Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a nonprofit advocacy group.
Barrett objected to Clarke's ad when he and the sheriff appeared on CNN's "Piers Morgan Tonight" program Jan. 29.
The Sheriff's Department spent $25,766 last year for radio ads discouraging drunken driving, texting while driving, speeding and other safety matters, a review of invoices showed. None of last year's radio ads purchased by the department was on 911 response time, gun safety or encouraging citizens to become proficient with guns.
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