Congress

Richard Neal Facebook page mixes campaign, congressional business

The Facebook page of Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., aired campaign ads for the congressman, a potential violation of House Ethics rules. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Updated August 28, 2:22 p.m. | House Ways and Means Chairman Richard E. Neal used his government-funded official Facebook page to air campaign advertisements, Facebook Ad Library shows, potentially running afoul of House Ethics rules that prohibit campaign business on House official resources.

In Neal’s official Facebook page disclaimer, up to $100 were spent on the ads in 2018 paid for by “Richard Neal for Congress Committee, Treasurer Michael F. Hall,” suggesting Neal’s campaign funds paid for the ad to air through the House office’s Facebook page.

House official resources, including social media, also run under the purview of the House Administration Committee. Their rules say that member-controlled content on social media accounts is subject to the same requirements as member websites. In both cases, it forbids any campaign use. The rules also explicitly state that campaign funds may not pay for a member’s official expenses, which are used to maintain and operate a members’ official resources.

Both ads are roughly 30 seconds in length and display written text stating: “Commit to vote on September 4th for Richard Neal” at the video’s end with the note, “Paid for by Richard E Neal for Congress Committee.”

Official guidance from the House Ethics Committee generally bars members from using their office or official House resources for purposes of “the drafting of campaign speeches, statements, press releases or literature.” However, there is little mention of rules regarding social media sites and their sponsored content.

Neal’s official Facebook account ran the two ads for 13 days, Aug. 10, 2018 to Aug. 23, 2018, two weeks prior to Massachusetts’ Sept 4th primary. Both are identical to ads from the Massachusetts Democrat’s campaign Facebook that ran from Aug. 21, 2018 to Sept. 4, 2018. According to House franking rules, a member is prohibited from sending out unsolicited mass communications, including advertisements, within 90 days of any election.

Based on Facebook Ad Library metrics, one ad was seen between 1,000-5,000 times, including possible multiple viewings, while the other made less than 1,000 impressions. Ninety-seven percent of viewership of both ads were in Neal’s home state of Massachusetts.

Side by side comparison of ads (CQ Roll Call compilation)
Side by side comparison of ads on Neal’s campaign Facebook page, left, and congressional member Facebook page, right. (CQ Roll Call compilation)

Peter Panos, a spokesperson for Neal’s campaign, said a third-party vendor was mistakenly given access to the congressman’s member page. 

“The campaign sought to place a Facebook ad through the campaign’s Facebook page, but its digital media vendor was mistakenly given access to the official Facebook page instead. When the vendor placed the ad on the night of Friday, August 10, it thought it placed the ad through the campaign page, not knowing it had placed the ad through the official page. No public resources were otherwise used to create, produce or distribute the ad; it was simply placed through the wrong page. Campaign staff was made aware of the mistake on the morning of Saturday, August 11, and alerted the vendor, who immediately pulled the ad, and whose access to the official page was cut off. The vendor then correctly placed the ad through the campaign page. The ad was live through the official page for 12 hours and 14 minutes, from 11:07 p.m. EDT Friday night until 11:21 a.m. EDT Saturday morning. The total cost for placement during that time was $54.91, which the campaign paid, and which the House office did not pay. The campaign has since reviewed its practices to ensure that similar errors do not recur,” Panos said in a statement. 

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone.