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W.Va. Ethics Commission OKs trinket law rules

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — When it came to writing rules for enforcing a new state law barring public officials from using public funds for self-promotional trinkets, advertising or entertainment, the Ethics Commission Thursday decided less is more.

With little debate, commissioners approved a terse, two-page legislative rule for enforcing the new legislation passed in the 2015 regular session. That was a contrast with two prior meetings, where commissioners engaged in extended discussions about what would and would not constitute violations of the new law.

Commission executive director Rebecca Stepto said commission staff decided to take the less-is-more approach, rather than attempting to spell out every conceivable definition for prohibited trinkets, advertising and entertainment.

The draft rules define advertising as any publication or media communication “that has the primary intent or effect of promoting a public official.”

It makes clear that press releases or other distribution of official information do not constitute advertising, and that the new law does not prohibit communications released by staffs of state colleges and universities for “marketing, development, recruiting or other advertising purposes.”

The rules also clarify that the ban on trinkets does not apply to ceremonial signings, allowing the longstanding practice of governors distributing pens bearing their names to participants in bill signing ceremonies to continue.

A part of the new law that commissioners found particularly irksome…

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