A reader asked for more discussion on the Scott Stephenson, Midland County Sheriff, insurance commercial.
We’re talking about Midland County Sheriff Scott Stephenson. You know, he’s the guy who was arrested for drunk driving in Kalkaska County after telling the arresting officer who he was and asking her not to arrest him. Then he refused to resign his position as county sheriff. That guy.
Okay, so he appears in his cop uniform in an insurance commercial. Miraculously, the commercial is still on YouTube. And it isn’t just Stephenson standing there and playing the part of a cop, either. No, Stephenson goes on to say, “Ieuter Insurance Group is always finding new ways to help serve their clients.”
That’s the background. Sitting Michigan County Sheriff makes commercial endorsing car insurance. He appears in his uniform and makes statements endorsing the product. That begs the question:
is it OKAY in Michigan for a public official to USE PUBLIC PROPERTY TO endorse a product?
No, it is not okay for a Michigan public official to use public property to endorse a product. The behavior falls under the Standards of Conduct for Public Officers and Employees, Michigan Law 15.342.
The law says, “A public officer or employee shall use personnel resources, property, and funds under the officer or employee’s official care and control judiciously and solely in accordance with prescribed constitutional, statutory, and regulatory procedures and not for personal gain or benefit.”
The law also prohibits presenting a personal opinion as being that from a government agency.
Shall not use property…for personal gain. Appearing in an insurance commercial in your sheriff’s uniform and with a car in the background appears to be doing just that.
The law includes a definition of public officers. The definition includes elected officials from political subdivisions (like a county government).
Violation of the law is subject to a state civil penalty of up to $500. There is a state commission that investigates violations. They can receive complaints, conduct an inquiry and issue an opinion. They cannot oust an elected sheriff from office, but you would think a formal ethics violation would make running for reelection more difficult.