Watchdog groups are accusing a House committee that investigates wasteful government spending of apparently using taxpayer funds to produce a campaign video attacking President Barack Obama.
The video was produced by House Committee on Oversight and Reform, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. The one-minute video criticizes Obama for the cost of state dinners and was posted to the committee’s YouTube channel on Friday. It has made its way through Twitter and conservative blogs over the weekend.
“Spend like he says, not like he does,” the narrator says of the president, as a photo of Obama in a tuxedo holding champagne shares a split screen with dollar bills raining down.
“It is so far beyond the pale. I think it is clearly an ethics violation,” said Melanie Sloan, the executive director of the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “It is one of the most outrageous abuses of official resources I’ve ever seen.”
CREW plans to file a complaint, Sloan said.
When asked if taxpayer funds were used to create the video, committee spokesman Seamus Kraft said in an email that “the committee’s video presentation is fully consistent with House rules and did not incur any additional taxpayer expenditures for its production.”
According to Paul Ryan, an election law and ethics attorney at the Campaign Legal Center, the video amounts to an “electioneering” campaign ad — it supports or opposes a candidate even though it doesn’t explicitly say vote for or against that candidate.
It falls short only in that it wasn’t broadcast on television.
“It’s a sham issue ad attacking president Obama in the immediate lead-up to a presidential election,” he said. “I don’t think government resources and congressional committees should be in the business of engaging in such actions even if these fall short of a legal definition of what constitutes an express advocacy campaign ad.”
If the ad were aired on television, it would likely need to be reported to the Federal Election Commission, according to Ryan.
Issa, the chairman of the oversight committee, has been an outspoken critic of Obama. Issa requested Friday that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton justify the cost of a state dinner for the president of Mexico, Felipe Calderon that was featured in the Web video.
The costs of the dinners are attributed to unspecified “documents” in an October article in the Washington Examiner, the Web video’s only source.
Democrats on the committee disavowed the video.
“This is an inappropriate use of committee resources,” said Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio.
House rules prohibit congressmen and women from using official resources for campaign activities.