CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The West Virginia Ethics Commission has scolded state Auditor Glen Gainer for taking part in an online advertising campaign for Visa.
In an advisory opinion, the commission ruled that state officials can't promote programs on a company's website. Commissioners also found that Gainer may have violated the Ethics Act by using his office for private gain.
"[Gainer] may not appear in a video on the state subcontractor's website to promote his office's electronic payment program," the commission concluded Thursday.
The decision follows reports in The Charleston Gazette that revealed that Gainer and four state agency administrators promoting the state's Visa purchasing card, or "P-card," program in three online videos last summer.
Visa removed the videos, at Gainer's request, after the Gazette reported on the ads. The auditor also asked the Ethics Commission for an advisory opinion on the matter.
Gainer has said his appearance in the ad campaign had an "overwhelming public benefit" -- to recognize that the purchasing cards save the government $145 million a year.
The Ethics Commission concluded that Gainer has "every right to be proud" of the program and to promote it.
"However, in the course of promoting his office's electronic payment program, he lends the prestige of his public position to a private business for which there is no overriding public benefit."
Gainer spokesman Justin Southern said the auditor would no longer take part in the Visa promotion.
"We respect the ethics committee's decision and will follow its advice," Southern said.
In previous decisions, the Ethics Commission has made clear that public officials in West Virginia should appear in advertisements for businesses and their products.
In this week's opinion, commissioners said the online Visa ads could have given Gainer a boost in his re-election. Gainer got 57 percent of the vote and defeated Republican Larry Faircloth in the November general election.
The Visa ads were available on the company's website during the campaign.