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NRCC Hopes to Turn Tables on Ethics

In an effort to move from defense to offense on the politically potent issue of Congressional ethics, House Republicans will signal today that they will talk extensively about Democrats — and not just indicted Rep. William Jefferson (La.) — who have been accused of personally benefiting from their positions on Capitol Hill.

The National Republican Congressional Committee is relaunching its Web site today with a featured page called “The Democrat ethics report: get the facts on who’s running the ‘most ethical Congress’ in history.”

The committee is focusing on eight veteran Democratic lawmakers: Jefferson and Reps. John Murtha (Pa.), Paul Kanjorski (Pa.), Maxine Waters (Calif.), House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (Mich.), Alan Mollohan (W.Va.), Jim Moran (Va.) and Jim McDermott (Wash.).

The Web site features hundreds of pages’ worth of documents about the targeted Democrats.

The NRCC will send the information to reporters in each of the eight Democrats’ districts in hopes of drumming up new interest and closer scrutiny of their actions.

Conservative radio stations will also receive the information.

“We are going to take our case to the voters of their districts and present them with the facts about this Congress’ laundry list of ethical improprieties,” NRCC spokesman Ken Spain said. “Democrats promised the most ethical Congress in history, yet they continue to remain silent about the ethically challenged Members in their own party. Nancy Pelosi [D-Calif.] is quickly becoming the most hypocritical Speaker in history.”

House Democrats, who profited politically in the previous cycle by branding the GOP-controlled Congress as corrupt, scoffed at the NRCC’s new campaign.

“The Republican rebranding project is trying to put lipstick on a pig,” said Doug Thornell, a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman. “At the end of the day, it’s still a pig.”

The NRCC’s dossier, which runs several hundred pages, contains no new allegations. However, some of the questions raised have never been answered completely.

For instance, the most damning charge against Murtha stems from a 2005 Los Angeles Times article that revealed his ties to two lobbying firms — one which employs his brother, the other which hired a former senior aide.

Taxpayers for Common Sense, a government watchdog group, said the 2006 Defense spending bill contained Murtha earmarks worth more than $95 million for clients of The PMA Group, which employs Paul Magliocchetti, the former aide.

PMA employees and clients contributed $800,000 to Murtha’s campaigns in a six-year period.

The Los Angeles Times found in 2004 that Waters’ family earned more than $1 million in eight years “by doing business with companies, candidates and causes that the influential Congresswoman has helped,” according to the NRCC’s information.

But in a statement Monday, Waters called the allegations “distorted.”

“My daughter, Karen Waters, owns a public relations firm known as Progressive Connections, which has been in business for 12 years and is a legitimate firm with a diverse client base,” the Congresswoman said. “Although the firm does do some political work for me, other elected officials and candidates for office, it also provides services to nonprofit organizations and corporate clients. As a matter of fact, according to FEC rules, it would be illegal for my daughter to provide a gift of professional services to me, therefore she must be paid.”

One of the NRCC’s goals in highlighting these news stories is debunking Democratic claims that Jefferson, who recently was indicted on bribery charges, is an anomaly within their caucus.

Secondly, party strategists hope the NRCC’s “document dump” will neutralize the ethics issue, which Democrats used so successfully last year, in 2008.

NRCC officials are betting that the media’s recent interest into earmarks will give their effort legs.

For example, officials in Davis, W. Va., are unhappy with a Mollohan earmark, which is under investigation, that led a nonprofit to buy land near a reservoir.

Some town leaders believe developing that area could spoil Davis’ drinking water.

“I think we answered all of that last year,” Mollohan spokesman Gerry Griffith said in response to his boss being a target of the NRCC effort. “They just feel that they have to play the kind of politics that they are used to playing.”

If the NRCC’s efforts leads to new questions, Griffith said: “That topic has been debunked in the past and if [Mollohan] has to, he’ll debunk it again.”

A Conyers spokeswoman said the House Judiciary chairman has no outstanding ethical problems.

Some former Conyers staffers alleged they were forced to do political work, and personal errands, for Conyers while they were on the government’s clock.

In 2003, the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct placed Conyers on probation and closed its investigation.

“The ethics committee and Chairman Conyers have already responded to these allegations so it’s far-reaching to include the chairman in their defensive political tactics,” said Melanie Roussell, a House Judiciary Committee spokeswoman.

GOP officials hope the coordinated effort will put additional seats in play.

Thornell said there is little chance of that happening.

“No amount of spin can take Duke Cunningham and Bob Ney out of orange jumpsuits,” he said.

Both former Republican Members are serving prison sentences after pleading guilty to bribery charges.

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