Lawmakers spend $10M annually on publicly funded messaging
The state Capitol in Harrisburg. (Photo by Tom Downing/WITF)
(Harrisburg) — Pennsylvania taxpayers are paying nearly $10 million annually for lawmakers to get their story out through a small army of spokespeople and efforts through video and online, LNP newspaper reported Monday.
LNP calculated the annual cost by reviewing spending records from 2013 through last year for the message operation that often produces copy and shows with a partisan message.
The Legislature’s equipment includes at least three TV studios built to produce state-run, news-like programs that feature lawmakers.
The four caucuses — Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate — have a combined public relations staff of about 130 people.
Pennsylvania taxpayers pick up the tab for thousands of newsletters and news releases, telephone town halls, website design and programs that alert staff when legislators are mentioned in the news.
“People tell us that they want to be more connected with government, and we’re trying on our end to provide those services,” said Drew Crompton, chief of staff to Republican Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati. “To what degree do they really want to be connected with government? I don’t know. But we think it’s important to send out as much information as someone would view.”
The largest portion of the cost is personnel, including videographers and photographers, broadcast specialists and graphic artists. Senate Democrats employ a social media director. House Democrats have a director of digital media and analytics.
Most staffers are considered communications specialists, handling the majority of work on websites, social media, newsletters and news releases. There are travel costs when they go into the district to cover events.
Their product, featured on publicly funded websites and social media accounts, can include video of committee hearings and senior expos, or shots of lawmakers wearing hardhats in factories or sitting down with veterans, interviewing kids at the Farm Show or making pastries in a local bakery.
LNP says the annual cost for newsletters is about $1 million, and about $275,000 for telephone town halls.
Senate Democrats pay $35,000 per year to reserve an hour a week of air time on a Comcast cable access channel.