Staff members for Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale and Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa — all Democrats — and Republican Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman have, among their other duties, the task of editing their bosses’ entries on Wikipedia, the online collaborative encyclopedia. Salaries of these staff members are paid for by taxpayers, LNP staff writers Junior Gonzalez and Carter Walker reported Monday.
Robert Caruso, executive director of the state Ethics Commission, said that assigning a public employee the task of burnishing a Wikipedia entry doesn’t violate Pennsylvania’s ethics act. We don’t question his judgment.
But we question the judgment of those who think such burnishing is a good use of taxpayer dollars.
Shapiro has done fine work, notably in holding the Roman Catholic Church accountable for decades of covering up child sexual abuse by priests. His work should speak for itself.
So why have his office’s digital communications director — who’s getting paid $65,526 a year by taxpayers after a recent raise of $11,540 — spend time turning what should be a straightforward Wikipedia entry into an exaltation so sugary that a reader complained it was “fawning so much it’s creepy”?
As Gonzalez and Walker reported, staffer David Corbin described Shapiro on his Wikipedia page as a “rising progressive star” who has “earned a reputation as a consensus builder eager to take on the status quo and challenge powerful institutions to protect the people of Pennsylvania.” He wrote that Shapiro is “guided by his faith” and “driven by the teachings of Scripture.”
Joe Grace, spokesman for the attorney general’s office, said Corbin had help from a deputy press secretary, and their work was approved by Shapiro’s deputy chief of staff, Dana Fritz.
“The digital work is a core function of the digital director’s job. We stand by it,” Grace said.
But three taxpayer-paid staff members were involved in composing the paean to Shapiro on Wikipedia. This strikes us as an excessive use of taxpayer-funded resources to expend on a single — very nonessential — task.
And that doesn’t include the staff time spent on pushing back against LNP’s efforts to report this story.
Grace told reporters multiple times that he didn’t feel this subject warranted reporting.
“I just don’t get it. Is anyone external raising any concerns?” Grace asked.
As Gonzalez and Walker reported, “Wikipedia users did, flagging and deleting Corbin’s overly flattering prose about Shapiro.”
We’re concerned because we think Pennsylvania state government is bloated and too expensive. Our commonwealth not only has too many lawmakers, but each of those lawmakers has staff members. If digital communications specialists are necessary, they should have more pressing duties than waxing poetic about their bosses on Wikipedia.
After all, we’re talking about an online encyclopedia that high school teachers won’t accept as a source on bibliographies; newspaper editors frown on its use by reporters.
It’s true that individuals who search for information about political figures on Google often are directed to Wikipedia. So, as Gonzalez and Walker noted, “the impact on electoral politics can be significant.”
But the resources of a state official’s office are not to be employed in the service of politics. If Shapiro wants to run as a Democratic gubernatorial candidate when Gov. Tom Wolf’s second term ends, his campaign staff should handle his Wikipedia-polishing.
Though, to be clear, even Wikipedia’s own standards strongly discourage editing in one’s own self-interest.
Such conflict-of-interest editing, that website explains, “undermines public confidence and risks causing public embarrassment to the individuals and companies being promoted. ... Anyone editing for pay must disclose who is paying them, who the client is, and any other relevant affiliation; this is a requirement of the Wikimedia Foundation.”
As we noted, Shapiro’s staffers aren’t the only ones engaging in this practice. Here’s the rundown, as reported by Gonzalez and Walker:
— Jenn Kocher, the communications director for Corman, “said she edits Wikipedia to include details about the majority leader’s positions on policy and his role in crafting bills. She said it is part of her job responsibilities — her position pays $125,090 a year — to find and fix incorrect information online.”
— Costa press secretary Brittany Crampsie, whose annual salary is $94,000, edited the minority leader’s Wikipedia page. She wrote that he “has dedicated his life to public service, and making sure state government is used as a force for good.” She said it’s not unusual for staffers to edit Wikipedia pages for lawmakers as they’re also updating biographical information on official websites and social media accounts.
— Barry Ciccocioppo, communications director for the Department of Auditor General, earns $139,052 a year. He not only updates DePasquale’s Wikipedia page, but has noted the awards he has won.
We’re sure these individuals are skilled public employees. We just think their skills ought to be put to use for the good of the public, not to buff the public images of their bosses.
Ramadan has begun
For Lancaster County Muslims, the next month will be a challenging one, as they seek to feel closer to God by fasting from food and drink from sunrise to sunset. The sacred month of Ramadan — which celebrates the revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad — began Sunday evening and will end when the sun goes down June 4.
We wish our Muslim neighbors Ramadan Mubarak (in English, “blessed Ramadan”).