Ghosts can bleed into the online world, as the Obama State Department found out earlier this decade when it paid $630,000 to boost its Facebook presence — only to find out that most of those new followers were ephemeral.

While some of the new Facebook fans may have liked a photo or clicked once on an ad, most had “no real interest in the topic and have never engaged further,” an inspector general found in a report questioning the department’s public relations spending spree.

Sen. Joni Ernst says that’s only one of the scary wastes of taxpayer money by federal agencies looking to buy their way to a better image.

The Iowa Republican was just as frightened this Halloween season by more than $250,000 the government has spent in recent years with a single Ohio costume company, in what she calls the price of propaganda.

In a memo Tuesday, Ms. Ernst said the federal government spends $1.4 billion each year promoting itself, including on mascots. That’s twice the amount spent on breast cancer research.

Among the mascots she wants to get the ax are Sunny Saguaro, a National Park Service cactus costume character who travels to parades and festivals. And Brite the Light Bulb, a U.S. Navy energy efficiency apostle. And the Green Reaper, an Energy Department mascot who even with a fear-mongering name and a rather scary visage is deployed to schools to encourage energy conservation.

“As an Iowa State Cyclone fan, I’ll be the first to say that mascots can be fun. But there is no justification for spending a quarter of a million dollars in taxpayer money on mascots and millions more on swag,” the senator said. “These costs come at the expense of real national priorities.”

Other items taxpayers have shelled out for, in the name of Uncle Sam’s self promotion, are coloring books ($605,000), key chains ($60,000) and drink koozies ($17,000). Another $25,000 went to buy give-away stress balls, and $16,000 for fidget spinners — 2017’s summertime fad.

Ms. Ernst’s bill, the Stop Wasteful Advertising by the Government Act — or SWAG Act — would ban the use of taxpayers’ money on creating or using a mascot for self-promotion.

Military mascots would be exempt, which is probably a relief to Bill the Goat, the U.S. Naval Academy’s man in a costume. Smokey Bear and Woodsy the Owl are also safe, since they are explicitly written into decades-old laws.

But the SWAG act would ban distribution of swaggy giveaways, right down to stickers, stuffed animals and writing pens.

Ms. Ernst — who won election five years ago with a famous ad recounting her youth castrating pigs on an Iowa farm and her vow to bring those skills to Washington to make bureaucrats squeal — said not all public relations spending is bad.

Not only does the military need to promote itself for recruitment, but public health campaigns also can warn of potential epidemics or safety risks.

It’s the spending that appears to have little obvious value to the taxpayer, like a $30,000 NASA Martian-themed party, that irks her.

That NASA party featured a sci-fi costume contest.

© Copyright (c) 2019 News World Communications, Inc.


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