Kucinich Broke Rules

Posted January 9, 2004 at 6:13pm

In his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich violated House ethics rules designed to prevent Members from using official government resources to benefit their political campaigns.

Kucinich’s campaign failed to abide by House ethics regulations, which forbid a Member’s campaign from immediately publicizing material that was released by his Congressional office.

The House allows campaigns to distribute a press statement drafted by the Member’s Congressional staff, but requires that a reasonable amount of time lapse between the date of original issuance and its subsequent reproduction for political purposes. More than three dozen press statements issued by Kucinich’s House office were immediately placed on his campaign Web site.

The House rules are vague about what constitutes a sufficient amount of time, but notes it should be at least “a few days.”

“As a general matter, the official use of the normal press release is exhausted once it has been disseminated and the media have had an opportunity to utilize its contents,” states campaign rules outlined by the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct. “Thus usually a campaign will be able to reproduce the contents of Congressional office press releases a few days after their original issuance.”

The press statements posted on Kucinich’s Congressional Web site and his presidential Web site both displayed the same date of issuance.

Doug Gordon, a spokesman for Kucinich’s House office, acknowledged the violation after it was brought to his attention on Friday.

“All the press releases that were issued out of the Congressional office were directly related to issues the Congressman has been working on in his official duties,” Gordon said. “But as soon as this was brought to our attention, the Congressman instructed his campaign to remove this material from his campaign Web site.”

It’s unlikely that Kucinich will be penalized for the infraction, according to sources familiar with how the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct operates.

An extensive review by Roll Call of the five Members of Congress running for president showed that Kucinich was the only Member in violation of either House or Senate ethics rules.

This does not mean that the campaigns of Sens. John Edwards (D-N.C.), John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) have not recycled press releases first issued by their Hill offices.

There are more than 20 examples of Edwards’ presidential campaign immediately using material produced by the personal office and posting it directly on the campaign Web site. Lieberman’s campaign has engaged in a similar practice more than 20 times. Five examples appear on Kerry’s Web site.

But the Senate operates under a separate set of campaign regulations, and allow campaigns to use Congressional material once it is made available to the public.

Kucinich was also in violation of the House rule that forbids Members from displaying press statements simultaneously on their Congressional Web site and campaign Web site. In Kucinich’s case, there were more than three dozen statements that appeared on both the Ohio Republican’s Congressional Web site and presidential Web site.

“[W]here a Congressional office posts a statement setting out the Member’s views on the major issues on its official Web site, the Member’s campaign is not free to reproduce that statement so long as it remains on the official Web site,” the House rules state. “So long as a statement of that nature remains posted on the official site, its official use is not exhausted.”

Rep. Richard Gephardt (Mo.), the only other House Democrat seeking his party’s nomination, appeared to be in compliance with the House rules. While the House and Senate campaign rules are written primarily to safeguard against the use of federal resources for re-election purposes, the regulations also cover presidential campaigns.

“It is not surprising that sometimes some of these statements would end up on campaign Web sites,” said Gary Ruskin, director of the Congressional Accountability Project. “Unfortunately, neither the House nor Senate have been willing to crack down on campaign activity by the Congressional staff.”

House and Senate rules also forbid Congressional staffers from using government resources on behalf of a campaign. Spokesmen for each Member seeking the Democratic presidential nomination claimed that no campaign activity is performed in the Congressional offices by staffers who are paid by taxpayer dollars.

Lieberman, perhaps, has been the most effective of all his Congressional colleagues in using his official status to criticize President Bush or call into question his administration’s policies.

More than 60 times in 2003, Lieberman sent letters to Bush or administration officials demanding information or asking for an investigation to be opened on various matters. On 40 of these occasions, Lieberman, the senior Democrat on the Governmental Affairs Committee, had the sole signature on the letter.

A Lieberman spokesman defended the requests, saying it was the Connecticut Democrat’s responsibility to engage in oversight of the administration.

“As the lead Democrat on the Senate’s principal oversight committee, Senator Lieberman has taken very seriously his obligation to keep this administration open and accountable for its actions,” said Matt Gobush, Lieberman’s Senate spokesman. “His activity this past year is completely consistent with his aggressive role on the committee and in the Senate in previous years.”

“Don’t forget for the first time in nearly five decades Republicans control both Houses of Congress and the White House, leaving meaningful oversight entirely in the hands of the minority,” he added.

At least one time last year, Lieberman’s campaign and Senate responsibilities were on parallel tracks. At a Aug. 27 campaign event in Spartanburg, S.C., Lieberman questioned the recent “spike” in gas prices and noted Bush’s “close ties to the oil industry.”

Two days later, citing the rising costs of gasoline across the country, including his home state, Lieberman sent a letter to Energy Secretary Spence Abraham calling on him to open an investigation into the soaring prices.

Lieberman’s office defended his request for an investigation and said he has been working on the issue long before he entered the presidential race.

“As Senator he has held numerous hearings and written several letters on the issue over the years,” Gobush said. “His work on the gas prices last year is consistent with his past efforts and long record.”