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Bachmann ‘Tea Party’ Contested

A government watchdog group accused Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) of violating House rules, asserting Tuesday that the lawmaker improperly used official resources to organize a recent “tea party” event at the Capitol to oppose health care legislation.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington issued its complaint Tuesday in a letter to the Office of Congressional Ethics, which reviews potential rules breaches and recommends whether the House ethics committee should investigate.

The complaint, a four-page letter accompanied by 54 pages of news reports and transcripts of the Nov. 5 event on the Capitol’s West Front, asserts Bachmann may have “violated House rules by using her House website to organize a grassroots rally and by holding the rally on House grounds without a permit.”

Bachmann spokeswoman Debbee Keller discounted the complaint as “rumors” spread by a Democratic political organization.

“Rep. Bachmann simply encouraged Americans to exercise their right to petition and ensure their voices were heard,” Keller said. She referred further requests for comment on the complaint to the House Administration Committee, citing the need for an “objective opinion.”

House Administration spokesman Kyle Anderson confirmed that the Nov. 5 event conformed to House guidelines.

“Initial review of the information provided indicates that the event held by Rep. Bachmann meets the necessary criteria to qualify as a press event. Within that context, eligible related expenses would be payable from the MRA,” Anderson said, referring to the Members’ Representational Allowance, the official office budget allocated to each lawmaker.

CREW’s complaint alleges that Bachmann misused her official Web site by advocating against the health care bill in a press release announcing the tea party event.

That announcement described the event as a “Health Care ‘House Call’ on Washington Press Conference” and urged citizens to “tell their Representatives to vote no to a government take-over of one-fifth of our economy.”

According to the Member’s Handbook — guidelines issued by the House Administration panel that govern the use of official office budgets — lawmakers “may not include grassroots lobbying or solicit support for a Member’s position” on their Congressional Web sites.

In addition, CREW alleges that the Nov. 5 event, during which GOP lawmakers and other speakers addressed protesters opposing the House’s scheduled vote on health care reform, was a “demonstration” rather than a “press conference.”

If accurate, such a distinction would have required Republican lawmakers to secure a permit from Capitol Police to hold the event on the West Front.

“The OCE should also investigate whether Rep. Bachmann or other members of Congress violated Congressional rules by failing to acquire a permit for the demonstration and by falsely portraying it as a press conference,” CREW’s complaint stated.

But Republican Study Committee spokesman Brendan Buck ­— who wrote an e-mail in early November reminding House aides to refer to a “press event” and not a “protest” — said the Capitol Police were consulted about the event.

“Putting such an event together so quickly it was unclear at first what we were looking at, but after working step by step with the Sergeant-at-Arms, Capitol Police, and Architect of the Capitol, the proper, accurate, and permissible description was press event or press conference,” Buck said in an e-mail.

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