Sunday, November 30, 2008

Government billboards.

Driving back to Tucson from the Phoenix Symphony tonight, I spotted a billboard in Phoenix's arts and entertainment district boasting that the University of Arizona is #1 in Astronomy.

A very true claim, yes, but just how many Astronomy, Astrophysics, or Planetary Science majors does the U of A expect to recruit with such a billboard? The likely "real" purpose of the advertisement falls outside of legitimate University expenditure; it is an attempt to convince affluent Phoenicians to "support" the U, not by making donations--that's done by direct mail to alumni--but rather by requesting that their legislators fund it and otherwise grant its wishes, a perhaps cheaper supplement to its outright lobbying. (The legislature has talked about forbidding the University and other organs of the government to lobby for years but never has had the sense to pass such a bill.)

In their excellent >100 Ideas for 100 Days the Goldwater Institute proposes forbidding all state-funded billboards or advertising that include a politician's name or face. That's a capital idea, but it can be made broader still: forbid the State government, any local government, or any organ of the state or local government to purchase any advertising whatsoever aside from that required by statute.

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