Washing Clean Pans: Inside the Campaign Charity Photo Op

Ryan

October 15, 2012; Source: Salon

To be fair to Republican vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), it isn’t unusual in the slightest for politicians to show up at public charities for photo ops with little or no prior relationship with the organization used as the photo op background. Congressman Ryan popped up at the soup kitchen run by the Mahoning County St. Vincent De Paul Society in Swanton, Ohio, reportedly got a volunteer to let him and his entourage in, and had his picture taken washing dishes there—even though, according to a soup kitchen spokesperson, the dinner was already over and everything had been already cleaned.

According to the Washington Post, Mahoning County St. Vincent De Paul Society President Brian J. Antag described the incident as follows:

“We’re a faith-based organization; we are apolitical because the majority of our funding is from private donations…It’s strictly in our bylaws not to do it. They showed up there, and they did not have permission. They got one of the volunteers to open up the doors…The photo-op they did wasn’t even accurate. He did nothing. He just came in here to get his picture taken at the dining hall…I can’t afford to lose funding from these private individuals [donors to his organization who expect it to remain nonpartisan]…If this was the Democrats, I’d have the same exact problem…Had they asked for permission, it wouldn’t have been granted. … But I certainly wouldn’t have let him wash clean pans, and then take a picture.”

Here’s a video of the photo op itself from CBS:

Photo ops are the lifeblood of political campaigns, often involving pictures of the smiling candidates mugging for the cameras while shaking hands, kissing babies, speaking before backdrops of smiling supporters, posing for a couple of minutes of serving food or, in Ryan’s case, washing pans. We have a few questions for NPQ Newswire readers: Has your nonprofit ever found itself in the position of being positioned and used as a photo op for a visiting political candidate? If so, has the candidate involved ever been sort of an uninvited guest? If so, how did you handle it? Does your nonprofit have a specific policy and procedure for responding to campaign requests for photo op visits? Give us your policy so that we can learn, in case Obama, Ryan, Biden, or Romney show up at Water Street in Boston with the expectation of a photo op with Ruth McCambridge and the NPQ gang.—Rick Cohen