Campaigns

Dems say GOP broke ethics rules using video trackers in House office buildings

Democratic campaign arm seeks ethics probe

Democrats accused Minnesota GOP Rep. Tom Emmer of violating House ethics rules. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is accusing its GOP counterpart, the National Republican Congressional Committee, of violating ethics rules by sending trackers to video record members of Congress in House office buildings. 

The DCCC filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics on Monday alleging the NRCC and its chairman, Minnesota GOP Rep. Tom Emmer, violated House rules barring lawmakers from using official resources for political purposes.  Twitter accounts for the NRCC and some of the committee’s spokespeople posted videos of Democrats in House office building hallways being questioned by someone in December and January. 

Trackers, or campaign staffers who take video of candidates and pepper them with questions, are common. But the Capitol complex has been considered off-limits for trackers in the past. The DCCC contended in its complaint that trackers on the Capitol grounds are not just frowned upon, they violate the rules.

The complaint cited a rule in the House Ethics manual that states, “The House buildings, and House rooms and offices — including district offices — are supported with official funds and hence are considered official resources. Accordingly, as a general rule, they may not be used for the conduct of campaign or political activities.”

DCCC executive director Lucinda Guinn said in a statement, “Congressman Emmer and the NRCC broke the rules. They used taxpayer-funded facilities for political purposes. And they did it while harassing members of Congress who were doing work for their constituents.”

NRCC spokesman Chris Pack responded to the complaint Monday night, writing in an email, “So the DCCC is using official government resources for a political publicity stunt where they accuse the NRCC of using official government resources for a political publicity stunt? Got it.”

Probe could be public

It is notable that the DCCC filed its complaint with OCE, which is a non-partisan entity that reviews allegations of misconduct involving House staff and lawmakers and refers cases to the House Ethics Committee. The office has jurisdiction to investigate alleged violations of a “law, rule, regulation or other standard of conduct.”

Democrats have fought to protect funding for OCE. Filing with OCE, as opposed to directly with the House Ethics Committee, could mean the findings of an investigation would be made public. However, unlike the Ethics Committee, OCE does not have subpoena power and cannot force people to comply with an investigation.

OCE examines each complaint but does not always launch an investigation. When a complaint is filed with OCE, two OCE board members first authorize a preliminary review if there is a “reasonable basis to believe that a violation may have occurred,” according to the OCE website. The preliminary review would be completed in 30 days. Three board members can then authorize a second-phase review, which is completed in 45 days with the possibility of a two-week extension.

The OCE board then decides whether there is “substantial reason to believe a violation occurred,” and if it should be referred for further review by the House Ethics Committee, which is made up of an equal number of Democratic and Republican lawmakers. If the investigation is referred to the Ethics Committee, OCE’s findings from its investigation are made public 45 days later.

Katherine Tully-McManus and Chris Marquette contributed to this report.Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone.