- Associated Press - Thursday, August 6, 2015

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - To comply with a new state law, the West Virginia Ethics Commission has advised public officials to limit how many photos of themselves they include on agency websites, educational materials and elsewhere.

An advisory opinion issued Thursday addresses questions about a new state law banning publicly-funded trinkets - from mugs to matchbooks - with officials’ names or faces on them. An elected state official requested guidance on how the law extends to websites, banners, YouTube videos and other items.

The opinion says an official’s agency website can only include a self-photo only on the homepage and in a biographical section.

Even if educational material is printed with private money, only one self-photo would be allowed if an official helps pick, edit or approve the content and sends the material out to the public. For example, the commission reviewed one document produced by a national nonprofit that promotes educational programs.

Public officials aren’t allowed to “thwart” the intentions of state law “by allowing or requesting third parties to finance the materials which are disseminated on their behalf,” the opinion states.

The commission advised officials to stop using printed banners and table skirts featuring their names and photos, even if they were bought before the new law. Those items can still feature the name of the government office.

Trinkets that have already been paid for also can’t be handed out. The official’s office could use trinkets like pens and pencils internally to make sure they don’t go to waste, said Ethics Commissioner Betty Ireland, a former secretary of state.

The opinion says officials can be in YouTube videos, TV appearances and similar communications, but their names shouldn’t be overemphasized.

A photo of the official should be omitted if it isn’t required to talk about the office’s mission or services in YouTube videos and other public materials, the opinion says.

The trinkets law took effect May 28. Additional rules by the Ethics Commission were effective June 23.

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