State Senate leader Phil Berger has embraced social media, both for his legislative staff and his re-election campaign.
Berger’s campaign uses Facebook to encourage potential contributors to give money. A red button posted there says “Support Phil. Donate now!”
Government employees on Berger’s staff use Facebook to promote Berger’s agenda. They post links to press releases, news articles and other content, according to his office.
But Berger has a single Facebook page, not two.
Amy Auth, a spokeswoman for Berger’s office, said campaign and legislative activity are kept separate.
“Sen. Berger’s Senate employees use social media to help him share information on official state business with constituents, and his campaign employees share information related to his campaign,” Auth said in an email. “There is no overlap.”
Berger’s approach to social media is different from that of other prominent North Carolina politicians. House Speaker Tim Moore, his fellow Republican, has two Facebook pages: one for his campaign, another for the speaker’s office at the legislature.
Moore also has two websites. Visitors to timmoorenc.com – Moore’s campaign website – see links to donate and volunteer for his re-election efforts. The website speakermoore.com – the official page for the speaker’s office – has news releases and videos produced by legislative staffers.
The difference between the two websites is made clear to visitors: The official page includes a list of his government staffers, while the campaign site says “Paid for by Friends of Tim Moore,” which is the name of his campaign committee.
Other state leaders also keep two different Facebook pages, Twitter handles and websites to separate campaign business from official business, including Gov. Roy Cooper, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and Attorney General Josh Stein. Berger has a single Twitter account and a single website, philberger.org.
Michael Bitzer, a political scientist and professor at Catawba College, said the use of the same social media account for campaign and official business is unusual.
“Generally every candidate or elected official I know of had the two separate accounts – one run by the campaign, one run by the government,” he said.
The state’s human resources law bans state workers from having “any active part in managing a campaign ... while on duty,” but the employees of the General Assembly are exempt from most of those human resources regulations. The N.C. Board of Elections doesn’t have a formal policy governing campaign social media accounts. A 2007 memo from the Legislative Ethics Committee says that “campaign activities should not be conducted in the legislator’s state-supplied office or using state equipment, facilities, materials, or personnel,” including “preparing campaign literature.”
Berger’s spokewoman, Auth, says his legislative staff have no role in his campaign activities.
In 2015, then-Gov. Pat McCrory’s communications office handed over the passwords for the governor’s official Facebook and Twitter accounts to McCrory’s re-election campaign – a move the state Democratic Party said shouldn’t be allowed.
The accounts had been created as he campaigned for governor. When McCrory took office in 2013, the state employees in his communications office took over those accounts. After the accounts were returned to the campaign, governor’s office employees set up new accounts for official business.
Some government staffers for North Carolina legislators and members of Congress also double as campaign staffers for their bosses, but they say they’re careful to avoid campaign work while on the clock for the government.
Bob Hall of Democracy North Carolina – a group that addresses issues of money in politics and has sued over Republican-led election law changes such as a voter ID requirement – says Berger’s practice of posting campaign and official business on the same page is troubling.
“It’s easy for the public to see that as a misuse of state resources,” Hall said. “I hope that he would take action to change it.”
Berger has used campaign money to advertise on Facebook. According to campaign finance reports, his campaign organization spent a total of $66,180 in 2015 and 2016 on Facebook advertising. Berger’s Facebook page has more than 134,000 followers.