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Updated: May 8, 9:55 a.m.
In a publicity move designed to dampen the morale of House Republicans six months out from the 2012 elections, operatives from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee hand-delivered a “scandal” calendar to every GOP lawmaker Monday.
Each month from the calendar features a GOP lawmaker and a caption about his or her ethics troubles, with January graced by Rep. Vern Buchanan (Fla.), the finance chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee who is under investigation for possible campaign finance improprieties.
The DCCC operatives visited Buchanan’s office first of the 242 GOP Members, asking a young woman manning the front desk whether she would deliver the calendar to Buchanan. “Uh, sure,” she said.
The calendar and its companion website resemble efforts in 2006 by Democrats to seize on the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, which is widely regarded as hurting Republicans at the ballot box and contributing to their loss of the House majority that year.
But the confrontational delivery method used by the campaign committee illustrates how the tactic is as much about getting in Republicans’ heads as it is in swaying voters’ minds.
“P.S. If you would like an additional copy [of the calendar], they are available at HouseOfScandal.org,” a cover letter to the lawmakers teases. The calendar is on sale at the site for $19.95.
Some Democrats say policy differences between the two parties will drive the election more than ethics questions.
“The ‘scandal’ we’re going to beat Republicans with is their proposal to charge seniors $6,000 more for Medicare,” said Steve Murphy of Murphy Vogel Askew Reilly, a prominent Democratic consultant.
Certainly the 112th Congress has faced its share of ethics scandals and investigations.
Rep. Michael Grimm (N.Y.), who is featured on the calendar for February, the month of his birthday, faces a potential FBI probe into allegations that he tried to strong-arm an influential Israeli rabbi into giving him campaign cash.
Rep. David Rivera (Fla.), October’s lawmaker, is under fire for falsely amended campaign disclosures and receiving reimbursements from his campaign and government accounts to cover personal expenses, according to a Florida Department of Law Enforcement report.
NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas), the December lawmaker, was referred to the House Ethics Committee for a loan he received from defunct mortgage giant Countrywide Financial Corp.
But scandals have cut across both sides of the aisle this Congress.
Former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) resigned after admitting he tweeted lewd photographs to a young woman who was not his wife.
Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Calif.) is facing an Ethics Committee investigation into whether she misused government resources in her bid to hold on to her seat.
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) admitted to the Chicago Tribune in February that he asked a political supporter to buy a plane ticket for a woman with whom he had a “secret relationship.”
Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) is often credited with pioneering the use of ethics issues for partisan gain, culminating in the impeachment of President Bill Clinton relating to his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
The Abramoff scandal — and other high-profile events such as former Florida Rep. Mark Foley’s sexually explicit messages to teenage pages — hurt Republicans in the 2006 and 2008 elections, prompting GOP leaders to vow to improve the party’s image.
“We understand there were reasons for our being fired in ’06 and ’08,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) told the National Review in 2010. “I think we’ve learned that that’s not a good way to gain the confidence of the people and that we ought to be instituting a zero-tolerance policy.”
However, unlike during the Abramoff scandal, GOP leaders are not distancing themselves from Grimm, Buchanan and Rivera. Speaker John Boehner (Ohio), for instance, appeared at a Florida fundraiser in March with Buchanan shortly after a tough New York Times story about Buchanan’s investigations.
But Republicans have been ratcheting up their own ethics charges. House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) last week threatened to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, the most pointed conflict between House Republicans and the Obama administration since the GOP took control of the chamber in January 2011 and obtained the power of the Congressional subpoena.
“The calendar the American people are focused on shows 39 straight months where unemployment has been above 8 percent under Obama’s watch. The real scandal is the economic legacy of Nancy Pelosi and President Obama which has left middle-class families with fewer jobs, higher gas prices and record debt,” NRCC spokeswoman Andrea Bozek said.