Editorial: Bad Intentions

Videos Violate Principle of Not Billing Taxpayers for Campaign Materials

Posted September 28, 2010 at 5:39pm

Whenever lawmakers insist that a certain suspect behavior honors the “spirit” of the laws or the rules, be wary.

When they add as further defense that the other guy does it, too, get ready to hold your nose.

House Republicans and Democrats are sparring over the production and posting of dozens of videos that look very much like campaign attack ads produced using government resources — Capitol Hill staff time, computers and video equipment.

Many of the videos, at a minimum, are beneath the dignity that ought to be expected of anything coming out of a government office. Some videos produced by GOP offices are particularly embarrassing. For example, one Republican video portrays Democrats as a group of crying babies.

Fair game for an ad produced by a political operation? Absolutely. But taxpayers should be outraged to find anything like this produced on their dime.

As Roll Call reported last week, Republican staffers on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, led by ranking member Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), defended the GOP videos. They noted that the House Administration Committee has failed to publish clear rules for videos and that the Democrats have produced campaign-style videos as well.

And indeed, some Democratic videos produced with taxpayer dollars have the feel of campaign ads as well. For example, a video produced by the House Majority Leader’s office argues that “failed Republican policies” produced the country’s most recent recession.

Topics such as these are, of course, worthy of debate. But with so much money sloshing around political campaigns, it is hard to believe that the more partisan-inspired messages of both parties cannot be funded — to excess — without government resources.

We are no fans of the campaign finance system either, especially in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. But at least that decision, having restored nearly full functioning of the corporate-driven campaign cash machine, should have taken the pressure off partisans to get creative in how they underwrite their attacks.

Issa is correct, though; the House Administration Committee long ago should have firmed up and clearly explained the rules in this area. It’s not as though Internet videos arrived on the scene yesterday.

And Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for the watchdog group Public Citizen, correctly said that the franking commission “has turned its back on this type of technology and let it go essentially unrestricted.”

The franking commission will review a video only if it is embedded in an e-mail. Even then, the commission will only look at the front page of the link, not the entire video.

Clearly, Congress needs better institutional oversight of videos being produced under the Dome.

Until then, the principle that campaign materials should not be produced with taxpayer money should be every bit as sacred as Members claim it to be.

There is no better place to start than by taking down these mudslinging, partisan and sometimes sophomoric videos.