Friday, July 10, 2020

Sheriff Al Cannon's campaign paid $500 to create his Wikipedia page

"Thank you for creating Al Cannon."

Posted by Sam Spence on Fri, Jul 10, 2020 at 2:09 PM

click to enlarge WIKIPEDIA SCREENSHOT
  • Wikipedia screenshot
The reelection campaign for Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon paid a sheriff's office employee to create his Wikipedia page during his off-duty hours, according to new ethics disclosures. The job may not violate state ethics laws, according to officials, but it has drawn the attention of his political opponent and Wikipedia moderators.

According to filings with the South Carolina Ethics Commission on July 7, Cannon's campaign paid Andrew Knapp of Mount Pleasant $500 for "Wikipedia Development Page." Knapp is currently the social media coordinator for the sheriff's office, according to Roger Antonio, who is the public information officer and Knapp's superior. Antonio confirmed Knapp "did assist Sheriff Cannon in an off-duty capacity, not paid by county funds."

Cannon's campaign organization has not provided additional information about the nature of the work.

Cannon did not have a Wikipedia entry before user Knapp84 initially created it on May 5. The initial 3,700-word article included Cannon's military service, Hurricane Hugo's damage to his Isle of Palms home, and controversial incidents such as a high-speed chase through Mount Pleasant in 2012 that the entry said earned him "notoriety and praise." (Subsequent changes removed what one editor described as "editorializing," adding a section on "Controversies.")

As long as Knapp's work did not utilize government time or resources, the job would not amount to an ethics violation, according to a representative from the South Carolina Ethics Commission. State ethics laws govern the conduct of both elected officials and public employees.

According to the entry's history, edits to the page ranged from morning hours to late at night. At least one of the photos on the page appears identical to a photo used on a Charleston County Facebook page, but is marked as Knapp84's "own work."

Cannon's paid Wikipedia page may not violate South Carolina's ethics laws, but it appears to have ruffled some of the moderators on the user-maintained reference site. After Cannon's disclosure was filed and a screenshot was posted on Twitter, a warning banner was placed on the page noting it may be in violation of the website's terms of use. Paid posts are "extremely strongly discouraged" on Wikipedia, but they are allowed with specific disclosures by the author. Knapp84's user page includes a conflict of interest notification, but not that the user has been paid for submitting articles, as is required by the terms of use.

Cannon has not had much competition since he was first elected in 1988, but this November he faces a longtime Charleston deputy, Kristin Graziano. Cannon asked her to step away from her duties earlier this year before she filed her paperwork to run as a Democrat.

"The fact that an employee is doing paid political work for the department head raises some ethical questions, such as the culture of the department and whether employees are feeling intimidated to support their boss," Graziano told the City Paper. "It’s clear to me that he is nervous.”

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