Republican activist files complaint over Braley deficit reduction workshop

Giese says emailed invitation to workshop is taxpayer-funded campaigning

March 31, 2014 | 10:51 pm

CEDAR RAPIDS – U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, who is campaigning for re-election, should cancel an event in Cedar Rapids because he is promoting it with taxpayer resources, according to his opponent’s campaign, which calls it a “clear violation” of ethics rules.

According to a complaint filed with the U.S. House Ethics Committee, Braley, a Waterloo Democrat, violated House rules when he sent the email to voters outside his Eastern Iowa congressional district to promote an Aug. 20 deficit reduction workshop in Cedar Rapids.

“Based on the fact that Braley does not represent the people of Cedar Rapids, the only conceivable reason that Braley would have in using official taxpayer-funded resources to communicate with the residents of Cedar Rapids is to support his re-election campaign in violation of House ethics rules and federal law,” Matt Giese, a former Dubuque County GOP chairman, said in his complaint.

Braley’s staff has dismissed the complaint.

“This complaint has no merit,” said Braley Chief of Staff John Davis. He email in question was pre-approved by the House Administration and Ethics committees, he said.

However, Cody Brown, an adviser to Braley’s Republican challenger, Ben Lange of Independence, said in its pre-approval the Administration Committee only reviewed the text of the message, not whether it conformed to ethics rules.

So he’s calling on Braley to cancel the workshop or “proceed knowing that holding the meeting is an intentional violation of ethics rules.”

A violation would be considered a “very serious matter” that could result in “not only disciplinary action by the House, but also criminal prosecution,” according to the Lange campaign.

The ethics complaint is the latest round of what is becoming an increasingly chippy rematch between Braley and Lange. Two years ago, Lange came within 2 percentage points of defeating Braley.

Lange earlier alleged that Braley has broken his pledge not to take campaign money from lobbyists. Braley countered that although he wants to see those rules changed, he did not promise to reject lobbyists’ donations.

Lange also called Braley hypocritical for his criticism of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s investments in China while also holding investments there.

In this case, Giese cites an email Braley sent Aug. 7 to invite voters to a deficit workshop in Cedar Rapids. Cedar Rapids is not in the current 1st District. However, as a result of redistricting, Cedar Rapids and Linn County will be in the 1st District as of this fall’s election and they will cast votes in the Braley-Lange contest.

Braley’s staff Davis pointed out the email did not apply only to Linn County voters.

“As is the case in communities across the state where residents live in smaller counties and work and study in larger, neighboring counties, scores of Rep. Braley’s constituents attend school, work and shop in Linn County,” he said.

Braley’s office “simply sent a House Administration Committee-approved email to a group of constituents inviting them to participate in an interactive work shop on reducing our nation's deficit,” Davis said. “The House Ethics Committee itself has signed off on these deficit-reduction workshops.”

Matt Giese's complaint:

Omar Ashmawy

Staff Director and Chief Counsel

Office of Congressional Ethics

U.S. House of Representatives

P.O. Box 895

Washington, DC 20515-0895

RE: Request for Investigation of Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA)

Dear Mr. Ashway:

I respectfully request that the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) investigate Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA) for violating House ethics rules and other federal laws in connection with the improper use of tax-payer funded resources in his Washington D.C. office for campaign purposes.

STATEMENT OF FACTS

On August 7, 2012, Congressman Bruce Braley (D-IA) used official resources of the House of Representatives for blatant campaign purposes in violation of the longstanding principle “that government funds should not be spent to help incumbents gain reelection.”[1]

Braley currently represents Iowa’s First Congressional District. The city of Cedar Rapids is not currently located in the District, but as a result of redistricting last year, Cedar Rapids will become part of the new First Congressional District in which Braley has launched his reelection campaign a few months ago.

On August 7, 2012, Braley used his taxpayer-funded congressional email account and email distribution list to advertise a “workshop” he plans to host in Cedar Rapids on Monday, August 20, 2012.

Braley encouraged recipients to call his official Waterloo congressional office with any questions about the event and encouraged recipients to “forward this email to your friends and family.”

The email included an RSVP link at his official Congressional website located at http://braley.house.gov/deficit-town-hall.

Because Braley is in the midst of a tough reelection campaign in the new First Congressional District, and based on the fact that Braley does not represent the people of Cedar Rapids, the only conceivable reason that Braley would have in using official taxpayer-funded resources to communicate with the residents of Cedar Rapids is to support his reelection campaign in violation of House ethics rules and federal law.

VIOLATIONS

According to the House Ethics Manual (“Ethics Manual”), “public office is a public trust” and, to uphold this trust, “Congress has bound itself to abide by certain standards of conduct.” The Ethics Manual is designed to assist members “in conforming their conduct to the high ethical standards they must meet” and requires members to “[a]bide by the spirit as well as the letter of the House rules.”

The Ethics Manual states that “official resources of the House must, as a general rule, be used for the performance of official business of the House, and hence those resources may not be used for campaign or political purposes.”[2] The Manual defines official resources to include congressional office equipment, office supplies, and congressional staff time.[3] This rule reflects “the basic principle that government funds should not be spent to help incumbents gain reelection.”[4]

On September 16, 2011, the Committee on Ethics and Committee on House Administration issued “Joint Guidance Regarding Redistricting” as a supplement to the Ethics Manual in order to “offer guidance on what Members may and may not do with official resources where redistricting is concerned.”[5] The Joint Guidance made clear that “[m]embers may not use official funds, including the use of staff resources, to conduct ‘town hall’ meetings or other official gatherings outside their districts.”[6]

In the case of Braley, he used official congressional office resources to organize an official gathering in Cedar Rapids, which is outside of Braley’s current congressional district, and is therefore in violation of the House ethics rules issued jointly by the Committees on Ethics and House Administration.

In addition, the Ethics Manual clearly states that “[e]-mails sent by a congressional office must likewise comply with the Franking Regulations”[7] and the Joint Guidance states that “[u]nder the franking statute, a Member “may not send any mass mailing outside the congressional district from which the Member was elected.”

Braley is clearly using his email account to target non-constituents in Cedar Rapids and is therefore in violation of the House Ethics Manual and franking regulations.

Pursuant to Section 39 of the United States Code, members of Congress are also prohibited from mailing as franked mail any mail matter that is “unrelated to the official business” of a Member of Congress or which is “purely personal or political basis rather than on the basis of performance of official duties as a Member.”

Because emails must comply with these regulations, and since the Joint Guidance made clear that conducting official gatherings outside of members’ districts does not qualify as part of a member’s official duties, Braley’s use of his official congressional email account and email distribution list to organize an event in Cedar Rapids appears to violate federal law.

Moreover, Braley is also in violation of House Rule XXIII which instructs members of the House to “adhere to the spirit and the letter of the Rules of the House and to the rules of duly constituted committees thereof.”

CONCLUSION

As the House Ethics Manual states, “public office is a public trust” and the American people are tired of Washington politicians who violate our trust. The violation of our trust is something that the Ethics Manual describes as a very serious matter” and which could result “not only disciplinary action by the House, but also criminal prosecution.”

I am respectfully requesting a thorough investigation into what extent Congressman Bruce Braley violated the House Rules, the Joint Guidance, the Member’s Congressional Handbook, the House Ethics Manual, Franking Regulations, and other federal laws, and whether there have been other similar incidents that have gone unreported.

I acknowledge that section 1001 of title 18 of the United States Code applies to the information contained in this submission.

Sincerely,

Matt Giese

[1] See House Ethics Manual, p.123; see also Common Cause v. Bolger, 574 F. Supp. 672, 683 (D.D.C. 1982), aff‘d, 461 U.S. 911 (1983).

[2] See House Ethics Manual, p.123.

[3] Id. at 123.

[4] See id. at 123; see also Common Cause v. Bolger, 574 F. Supp. 672, 683 (D.D.C. 1982), aff‘d, 461 U.S. 911 (1983).

[5] See Joint Guidance Regarding Redistricting, Committees on Ethics and House Administration, Sept. 16, 2011.

[6] Id.

[7] See House Ethics Manual, p.126.

------------------

Below is an advisory opinion from the House Administration Committee that Rep. Braley's congressional office released. It was released prior the Braley sending the email.

PRELIMINARY APPROVAL NOTICE

*** Please review this entire notice to ensure your STAFF ADVISORY OPINION is fully completed. ***

E-Newsletter - Deficit town halls on 8/20 (must be sent out on or by 8/8)  (Description of Request)

This notice constitutes the preliminary approval of your request for an Advisory Opinion #24529-22, as reviewed and approved by Matt DeFreitas of the Commission's staff on 8/3/2012.

This notice authorizes the Member to proceed immediately with the printing, production, and/ or distribution of this communication.

As soon as available, please forward the following documentation to the Commission in support of the processing of the written STAFF ADVISORY OPINION.

If the communication was distributed as a mass mailing or mass communication, or printed materials that would require reimbursement please submit 4 originals copies of the approved request.

Please note for mailing purposes only:

1.      If this material will be deposited directly to the USPS as a single drop mass mailing, you will need to enter your request number in the box titled "Federal Agency Cost Code". The House permit is G-300 which must be entered in the box titled "Permit Number".

2.      If the material will be deposited for processing by the Office of Mailing Services/Pitney Bowes as a single drop mass mailing, you must complete the Single Drop Mass Mail Notification form and print your cost code number at the top of the form. Then, call Pitney Bowes for pick-up.

The written STAFF ADVISORY OPINION and attached communication with be made available for public disclosure.

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