On several occasions this spring, staff members in the office of Rep. Dennis Moore (D-Kan.) used their House e-mail accounts to circulate political information about the Senate campaign of former Rep. Jim Slattery (D-Kan.) in violation of House rules and, potentially, federal law.
In one case, a Moore staffer sent an e-mail urging recipients to get out your checkbooks, which would appear to violate a criminal statute prohibiting soliciting federal employees for campaign contributions.
Moores office contends that the e-mails were simply mistakes by staff members and that the staffers have since been reminded of the House rules.
As Slattery, who served six terms in the House between 1982 and 1994, prepared to join the Kansas Senate race in March, a Kansas City Star political blog reported that he was telling Kansas Democrats that he would run against GOP Sen. Pat Roberts. Moores legislative assistant, Sarah Lochner, circulated that blog post in a March 12 e-mail, adding the message This just in [from the blog] get out your checkbooks!
Two days later, Lochner exchanged e-mails with Howard Bauleke, Moores chief of staff, about Slatterys plans for a campaign announcement. Bauleke had been Slatterys chief of staff in the House and replied that Im going to start sending out campaign info from my Comcast account, once I have info to send.
In May, Bauleke used his official House account to circulate a notice that the Democrats Kansas Coordinated Campaign was preparing to hire field organizers and to provide a contact at the Kansas Democratic Party who would accept résumés.
That e-mail was noted in a news story in The Hill, which quoted Moore spokeswoman Rebecca Black as saying that Bauleke frequently sends noncampaign job postings from his House account and that the campaign mailing was simply a mistake.
But on June 13, Lochner used her House account to forward to everyone in Moores office another campaign e-mail, this time a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee notice of poll results that looked good for Slattery. She added this message to the body of the e-mail: WOOOOOOOOOO!
Black told Roll Call that the staff have since been reminded of the rules prohibiting the use of Congressional e-mail for political purposes.
Our office takes very seriously our responsibility to uphold the highest of standards and work hard on behalf of the constituents of the Third District, Black wrote in an e-mail. In addition, Congressman Moore has made it clear that inappropriate use of taxpayer resources will not be tolerated. As soon as the June 13, 2008, e-mail was sent, I contacted the staff member in question, informing her that it was not an appropriate use of her House account and that in the future, any such content should be sent from her personal account on her personal time.
Black later said she had not seen the checkbooks e-mail and added that as Kansans we are certainly interested in whats going on. It certainly should not be discussed over House e-mail and thats been reiterated but I absolutely cant ask people to not be interested in whats happening.
The House ethics manual explains that federal law prohibits members of Congress and staff … from knowingly soliciting any contribution from any other federal officer or employee. In addition, the manual states that official resources of the House including the computers, telephones and fax machines can only be used for official Congressional business and may not be used for campaign or political purposes.
Moore has no formal relationship with Slattery and has not publicly endorsed Slattery, but Moores district director stepped down in April to become Slatterys campaign manager.
Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, said the e-mails from Moores office clearly violate the rules, though it is unclear whether any penalty would apply. The penalty would depend on whether it was willful or knowing, which is what the law is really intended to address, McGehee said. It is very possible that a person had no clue and therefore would not be facing any penalty for the mistake, she said.