April 23, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Editorial: Cantor’s Fine Line

As believers in a strong two-party system, we support Republican efforts to “rebrand,” “reach out” to the public and develop new ideas.

But political work, such as that being done by the National Council for a New America created by House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.), should be done with political money and not with resources paid for by taxpayers.

As Roll Call reported on Monday, Cantor staff and GOP ethics attorney Jan Baran have walked a very fine line to comply with House rules in funding, publicizing and staffing the new organization.

But we think that the whole endeavor ought to be paid for out of political contributions.

The NCNA’s original launch letter carefully — though disingenuously — declared “this is not a Republican-only forum.”

And Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said in one conference call that “this is a conversation with America. This is not a rebranding effort.”

But the NCNA clearly is not bipartisan and everything about it is designed to advance the Republican Party.

McCain said the group was based on the National Policy Forum established by Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour when he was chairman of the Republican National Committee. Barbour now is one of the group’s “national panel of experts.”

At the group’s first event, an all-Republican forum at an Arlington, Va., pizza parlor, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney made jokes at the expense of the Democratic Party.

And this week a Cantor aide told Roll Call, “In the last two election cycles, we haven’t done that great, to say the least. So we need to both put forward where we stand and be an intake vehicle. This is part of that process.”

The Arlington event, properly, was paid for from Cantor campaign funds. But, as Roll Call reported, leadership aides on Cantor’s House staff, paid by taxpayers, do the lion’s share of the organization’s work.

The NCNA’s Web site, WeThePeoplePlan.org, was designed by a House staffer and directs visitors immediately to Cantor’s leadership Web site — all taxpayer-funded.

Baran and Cantor’s deputy chief of staff, Rob Collins, say the NCNA is organized as an “informal caucus” of House and Senate Members that is permitted to use House resources because “this is not the sole function of anyone in [Cantor’s] office.”

They seem to have complied carefully with House rules as they are now written, including drawing lines to separate out the “national panel of experts” as an advisory group that is not allowed to use House resources or have a Congressional point of contact.

It may be that the House Ethics Manual needs to be recast to take into account organizations like this that are clearly designed to serve a partisan political purpose but can slip through current rules.

In the meantime, Cantor should reimburse his House account from his campaign account or leadership political action committee for the staff resources that he has used.

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