From left: Sens. Jeff Sessions, Chuck Grassley and David Vitter attend an event on border security, where a group handed out a report that included a fundraising appeal.
An immigration reform group handed out a report that included a fundraising solicitation at a press conference last week hosted by three Republican Senators — a move that may have been a breach of Senate rules.
Sens. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), David Vitter (La.) and Chuck Grassley (Iowa) joined law enforcement officers at a Thursday press conference to argue that the Obama administration’s immigration directives would put agents and citizens at increased risk.
At the event, which was open to the public, a representative with the Federation for American Immigration Reform attended and handed out a report just before the press conference began.
“It’s like church. Pass them down,” the FAIR representative said, according to a reporter who attended the press conference.
A spokesman for Sessions said none of the Senators were involved with the report or its distribution and that the thrust of the press conference was to hear from law enforcement agents who were concerned with the White House’s immigration policy. Spokesmen for Grassley and Vitter gave similar accounts.
The FAIR report, titled “President Obama’s Record of Dismantling Immigration Enforcement,” is essentially a timeline of events from 2009 to 2010 detailing “how the Obama administration has carried out a policy of de facto amnesty for millions of illegal aliens through executive policy decisions.”
Toward the back of the report is a request for funding.
“The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) is a national, nonprofit, public-interest, membership organization of concerned citizens who share a common belief that our nation’s immigration policies must be reformed to serve the national interest,” the request read.
“Your support is crucial to our ability to improve border security, stop illegal immigration, and promote immigration levels consistent with the national interest,” it continued, seeking contributions of $25, $50, $100, $250, $500, $1,000 or “other” amounts.
“Soliciting contributions in either Senate space or on the Capitol grounds doesn’t just violate the rules of the Senate, it is against the law,” a Democratic aide for the Senate Rules and Administration Committee said. “Events are hosted by the Member or Members who request the space, and they are responsible for ensuring that the room use rules are followed by the entities using that space.”
Under federal law, “A person may not carry out any of the following activities in the [Capitol] Grounds: (1) offer or expose any article for sale; (2) display a sign, placard, or other form of advertisement; (3) solicit fares, alms, subscriptions, or contributions.” Punishment can result in a fine and/or six months in prison.
The Senate Handbook, a compilation of the rules governing office administration, also prohibits such a solicitation in a Senate facility. “Senate space may not be used for any fund-raising purpose,” according to the handbook.
If a violation occurred, it was not immediately clear who would or could be held responsible.
A spokeswoman for FAIR said the group typically hands the report out to supporters, with the solicitation, and that what the group handed out at the press conference was the standard version.
“All of our reports are printed that way,” the spokeswoman said.
FAIR has been pegged as an anti-immigration group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and is listed on the civil rights group’s “Hatewatch.”
“Although FAIR maintains a veneer of legitimacy that has allowed its principals to testify in Congress and lobby the federal government, this veneer hides much ugliness,” according to the SPLC website. “FAIR leaders have ties to white supremacist groups and eugenicists and have made many racist statements.”
An editorial in the Saturday Burlington, N.C., Times News raised concerns that 30 sheriff’s departments in the United States, including the Alamance County, N.C., Sheriff’s Office, have decided to take a training course offered by the group.
“There should be no hint of association with organizations that espouse hatred or an eradication of rights for any group over which a law enforcement agency has authority. To do otherwise calls into question the agency’s integrity should questions about mistreatment of criminal suspects arise in the future,” the editorial said.
The Republicans’ press conference came as a response to the White House’s announcement last month that immigration officials would refrain from deporting some people who were brought illegally to the United States as children younger than 16.
But critics argue that the policy is an encumbrance for law enforcement to do its job.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.