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Agency PR staffers outnumber Capitol reporters 10-to-1

Organization raps state for number of agency public releations reps.

Take a look at the state of Oregon's advertising and you'll quickly wade into a very expensive cesspool of absurdity — one that came under ridicule this week by a conservative transparency organization.

While we concede that some public relations may have to do with educating constituents about state services, some of the millions of dollars spent on PR every year goes to projects like the infamous Cover Oregon ads, one of which features cellists, saccharine lyrics about taking care of each other, and, of course, references to "The Oregon Way."

It's hard to make a public interest argument about that kind of spending, especially in the context of a $1.4 billion budget shortfall in the next two-year budget, and when Cover Oregon was a spectacular failure.

There's very little hope that the gravy train for the state's spin doctors will stop soon: In fact, the Oregon Capital Insider had the privilege this weekend of meeting a young fellow who has a contract with the state to make a "concept album" about Oregon's beaches, which featured free stays at Oregon State Parks cabins on the coast during the winter.

Adam Andrzejewski, of Open The Books, an organization that has pursued prior reports on spending by state agencies, published an editorial in Forbes earlier this week on his findings.

According to Andrzejewski, among 87 state agencies, there are 303 state public relations and communications employees, which cost the state $110 million in salaries between 2012 and 2016.

The state has employed 2,200 outside firms for advertising purposes, spending $168 million on outside vendor payments for marketing and PR between 2012 and 2016, according to Andrzejewski's findings.

For context: There are approximately a dozen journalists covering the state politics and government beat full time in Salem, with some additional reporters floating in and out or reporting from Portland.

If we assume, generously, that at any given point, double that amount — including local journalists — are doing work that requires interacting with state government, that is a ratio of 10-to-1 paid PR professionals to journalists, not including private contractors doing PR.

Adding a layer of irony to the mix, the Senate Republicans' spokesperson rather gleefully distributed the report via a press release this week. But, we ask, what is his job? And who pays his salary?

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