At issue, then, is whether any of the campaign research discussed on the McConnell audio recording was done by Senate staffers on official Senate time. CREW’s letter cites a purported excerpt from the beginning of the transcript in which a voice is heard to say that the discussion to follow “reflects the work of a lot of folks, Josh, Jesse, Phil Maxson, a lot of LAs, thank them three times, so this is a compilation of work, all the way through.” LAs likely means “legislative aides,” a Senate staff position — and CREW notes that some of the named individuals may be staffers, as well. If staffers did campaign work on Senate time, this indeed could present an issue.
However, the McConnell campaign has stated that the whole complaint is premised on an inaccurate transcription of what was actually said at the meeting. Most significantly, the campaign says, the speaker at the outset of the discussion did not say “thank them three times” for their work, but rather that the work was done “in their free time.” If the staffers did indeed do the campaign research in their free time, of course, then the law CREW cites would not be at issue.
I’ll leave it to the audio experts to determine who is right about the recording. Whatever it says, the incident is a useful reminder that staffers should be careful not to do campaign work on official Senate time or using official resources. A violation, or even the appearance of one, can lead to trouble.
C. Simon Davidson is a partner with the law firm McGuireWoods. Submit questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions do not create an attorney-client relationship. Readers should not treat his column as legal advice.