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Missouri state seal gets improper usage in campaign

Saturday, July 27, 2002

SECRETARY OF STATE'S DISAPPROVAL

By Mark Bliss ~ Southeast Missourian

JACKSON, Mo. -- Missouri's state-approved seal doesn't belong on campaigns, the secretary of state's office says, and candidates like Cape Girardeau County assistant prosecuting attorney Scott Lipke shouldn't be using it on his campaign literature.

Lipke of Jackson, Mo., is running for state representative in the 157th District, which covers parts of Cape Girardeau and Perry counties.

The state's official seal isn't to be used on campaign literature, advertising or billboards a spokesman for Secretary of State Matt Blunt said Friday. The spokesman, Spence Jackson, said that applies to both incumbents and challengers.

Lipke said his brochures, with the seal printed on the cover, already have been printed and distributed. Lipke said state and county election officials didn't inform candidates about the policy.

He said he never heard of the rule until he was contacted by a reporter.

Lipke said the secretary of state's office provided him and other candidates with a copy of campaign finance laws, but no notice of the policy on use of the state seal.

"If there is something to that effect, then they need to put it down in writing. Maybe we need to elect a good representative to clarify it," he said.

Jackson said using the seal in campaigns isn't technically illegal. There's no state law banning the practice.

Protecting the seal

The state constitution, however, makes the secretary of state's office the keeper of the official seal.

A 1956 Missouri attorney general's opinion says the seal should be used only for official business, Jackson said. The secretary of state's office has followed that advice ever since, he said.

"To the best of my knowledge, no one has challenged it in court," Jackson said.

The secretary of state's office gets a few complaints about seal misuse every election year, he said.

In those cases, the secretary of state's office sends a letter to candidates requesting that they quit using the seal in their campaign materials and advertising. Jackson said candidates typically comply.

Candidates are allowed to appear in campaign photos that show them standing in front of a building, wall or other structure on which the state seal appears.

Gerald Jones, Cape Girardeau County presiding commissioner who is seeking re-election, has been running newspaper ads that show him photographed in front of the commission desk on which the state seal appears.

Jackson said Jones' campaign ads don't violate the seal policy.

No one has formally complained about Lipke's use of the seal, so the secretary of state's office has no plans to intervene, Jackson said.

The secretary of state's office doesn't have staff assigned to policing the use of the seal, he said.

With no specific law on the books, the secretary of state's office can't enforce the policy short of asking the attorney general or a county prosecutor to take the issue to court. Jackson said as far as he knows that hasn't happened.

Jackson said it would be difficult to inform candidates in advance of every single election issue that might arise.

"There are an endless number of issues that come up when candidates are in a scrap with each other," he said.

Lipke is in heated race with three other Republican candidates for the open seat to replace retiring lawmaker David Schwab, R-Jackson.

Rodney Miller, Cape Girardeau County clerk, has been supervising local elections since 1979. Miller said he wasn't aware of the no-seal policy.

Jackson acknowledged that the policy isn't well publicized. "It is just not something most candidates think about," he said.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123


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