Ethics Violation? Sen. Brown's Video Taxpayer Funded, Allege Mass Dems
Brown campaign video was shot by taxpayer-funded staffer working at an official event, allege Massachusetts Democratic Party chairman.
Did US Senator Scott Brown, R-Mass., violate campaign ethics rules by having a US Senate staffer shoot a campaign video? Let us know what you think in the comments section below the article.
The Massachusetts Democratic Party alleges US Senator Scott Brown had a taxpayer-funded employee shoot a campaign video, which they believe is an ethics violation.
A complaint filed with the US Senate Select Committee on Ethics calls for an investigation into Brown’s "use of official, taxpayer-funded resources for campaign purposes," according to a press release from the Massachusetts Democratic Party.
On April 28, Brown's campaign circulated an online video of the Republican's successful fifth attempt at making a half-court shot at the Hyannis Youth and Community Center during an event he attended in his official capacity as a US Senator.
The video was put on Brown campaign’s website and YouTube, was filmed by a taxpayer-funded Senate staffer - and made it out to seem like it was Brown's first attempt, not fifth.
“Neither Senator Brown nor the campaign has ever claimed (nor could it be claimed) that the video was recorded for any governmental purpose,” wrote John Walsh, Massachusetts Democratic Party chairman, in his letter to the committee’s Chair and Vice Chair.
US Code and the Senate Ethics Manual do not allow Senate staffers from participating in campaign activity while simultaneously performing official duties for which they are paid by the government. Senate employees are allowed to participate in political events, but it must be on their own time.
“By permitting his official staff to engage in campaign related activity while serving in their official capacity, Senator Brown has failed in his responsibility to ensure that the interests of his campaign do not conflict with or detract from official staff duties and acted in violation of federal law,” wrote Walsh.
The full text of the complaint is below:
May 9, 2012
Honorable Barbara Boxer, Chair
Honorable Johnny Isakson, Vice Chair
Senate Select Committee on Ethics
Hart Building, 2nd & C Sts., NE
Washington, DC 20510
Re: Complaint Regarding Senator Scott Brown's Use of Official Resources for Campaign Purposes
Dear Chairwoman and Vice Chairman:
This letter constitutes a complaint against Senator Scott Brown pursuant to Rule 2 of the Rules of Procedure of the Senate Select Committee on Ethics. As detailed below, Senator Brown has violated the requirement that official resources be used only for official purposes by permitting an official staff member to engage in campaign activity while attending an official event in the staff member's official capacity. See Senate Select Committee on Ethics, Senate Ethics Manual 153 (2003); see also 31 U.S.C. § 1301(a).
On April 28, 2012, Senator Brown's campaign circulated an online video of Senator Brown making a half-court shot at the Hyannis Youth and Community Center during an official event. The video, called "Scott Brown's Amazing Half-Court Short," may be viewed either on Senator Brown's campaign website, available at http://www.scottbrown.com/2012/04/scott-browns-amazing-half-court-shot/, or on the campaign's YouTube channel, available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cVIAG7M8e5Q&feature=plcp.
According to news reports, the video was filmed by an official Senate staffer at an event the Senator and Senate staffer were attending in their official capacities. See Glen Johnson, Brown's staff performs balancing act, Boston Globe, May 4, 2012 (attached as Exhibit A). Senate staffer Marcie Kinzel recorded the Senator "as she worked on federal time, staffing the senator at an event he was attending in his governmental capacity. And she was in Massachusetts after flying to and from Washington on a ticket paid for by the government." See id.
Section 1301(a) of title 31 of the United States Code provides that "appropriations shall be applied only to the objects for which the appropriations were made except as otherwise provided by law." Because "[o]fficial resources may only be used for official purposes," the United States Congress interprets such provision to prohibit Senate employees from engaging in campaign-related activities while on Senate time. See Senate Ethics Manual at 153, 141; see also Common Cause v. Bolger, 574 F. Supp. 672 (D.D.C. 1982), aff'd, 461 U.S. 911 (1983) ("It is clear from the record that Congress has recognized the basic principle that government funds should not be spent to help incumbents gain reelection."). Accordingly, when official Senate staffers are performing official duties for which they receive compensation from the United States government, they may not engage simultaneously in services for the benefit of the Senator's political campaign. See id. at 141. Although Senate employees are free to engage in political activity, it must be on their own time – and not when they are staffing a Senator at an office event. See Senate Ethics Manual at 140.
In this case, Ms. Kinzel acknowledges that she recorded the campaign video while attending an official event with the Senator. She also traveled to and from the event using official funds. Regardless of when she forwarded the video to the campaign, there is no question that she recorded the video of Senator Brown in her official capacity.
The Senator's use of Ms. Kinzel's official staff time for campaign purposes is a clear violation of 31 U.S.C. §1301(a) and Ethics Committee guidance. It is Senator Brown's "responsibility to keep campaign related activities by staff to a 'de minimis' amount, and to observe the general principle that staff are compensated from public funds for their assistance in the Member's official legislative and representative duties, rather than for services to the Member's political campaign." See id. at 141. Although some de minimis overlap between official duties and campaign related activities may be permissible, examples of such de minimis activity are limited to situations where the overlap cannot be avoided, such as coordination between the official and campaign scheduler. See id.
Recording a video of the Senator for campaign purposes is neither de minimis, nor an example of unavoidable overlap between official duties and campaign related activities. Furthermore, the benefit the campaign received from Ms. Kinzel's actions is evident by the immediate posting of the video on the campaign's website and its subsequent frequent use of and reference to it. Neither Senator Brown nor the campaign has ever claimed (nor could it be claimed) that the video was recorded for any governmental purpose.
By permitting his official staff to engage in campaign related activity while serving in their official capacity, Senator Brown has failed in his responsibility to ensure that the interests of his campaign "do not conflict with or detract from official staff duties" and acted in violation of federal law. See id. at 153. We therefore respectfully request that the Committee immediately undertake an investigation of the use of Senator Brown's official Senate staff and Senate resources for campaign purposes and require Senator Brown to comply fully with all applicable laws regarding the use of official resources.
Very truly yours,
John E. Walsh, Chair
Massachusetts Democratic Party