Virginia’s right-wing Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) has taken heat in recent days after he censored the state seal on lapel pins he handed out to his staff. Virginia’s Great Seal, which has been in use since 1776, shows the Roman goddess Virtus standing over the defeated Tyranny. The official seal shows Virtus with her left breast exposed, but Cuccinelli’s version has her chest covered.
When he handed out the pins, he “joked that it converts a risqué image into a PG one,” but after being widely ridiculed for the new seal, Cuccinelli abandoned the pins and denied that he was trying to censor the seal. He blamed the media for creating a “distraction,” claiming the pins were based on “antique” versions of the seal and that he just wanted to give his employees something “unique.”
But in an interview on WAMU yesterday, Cuccinelli offered a completely new explanation, suggesting that it would be illegal for him to use the official seal on the pins:
CUCCINELLI: We just had art for an old seal and we were making a lapel pin and the one thing I know about seal law, and this is the limit of my seal law knowledge, is that there are rules surrounding using the seal. So we didn’t. We made our own pin. If we made a seal — the House of Delegates members, that’s their pin, it’s been used, it’s on all of my letter head and everywhere else.
HOST: Stationary. The flag. It’s on the flag.
CUCCINELLI: Absolutely. It sits right next to me at my desk. So I don’t have any problem with the seal. it is just something we were doing artistically and historically.
Cuccinelli did not mention “seal law” anywhere in the statement he put out to explain the pins, and has not suggested it as the reason behind the change thus far. According to the website of the Secretary of the Commonwealth, who is “charged by law with being the keeper of the seal,” the use of the seal is prohibited for “nongovernmental purposes“:
Section 1-505 of the Code of Virginia provides that the seals of the Commonwealth are deemed the property of the Commonwealth; and no persons shall exhibit, display, or in any manner utilize the seals or any facsimile or representation of the seals of the Commonwealth for nongovernmental purposes unless such use is specifically authorized.
Although Cuccinelli paid for the pin with money from his political action committee, he handed them out to his gubernatorial staff members — who are paid by Virginia taxpayers. A call placed by ThinkProgress to Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office for clarification has not yet been returned.