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Ron Johnson Hit With Ethics Complaint After Using Taxpayer-Funded Resources To Boost Campaign

The Hill reports that Ron Johnson has been hit with a Senate Ethics complaint over his clear violation of an ethics rule that prohibits members of Congress from using official, taxpayer-funded resources for campaign purposes. The American Democracy Legal Fund filed the complaint earlier this week, and it can be viewed here.

The complaint focuses on a blog post Johnson published on his official Senate website on June 19 in which he rebuts a PolitiFact story about his opposition to government assisted student loans. Johnson committed a clear ethics violation in using his Senate website to make a partisan political attack, even calling out his opponent, Russ Feingold, by name and featuring a photo of him.

From The Hill:

The fact-checking website had categorized as “mostly true” Feingold’s assertion that “my opponent is opposed to all government-assisted student loans.”

The reply on Johnson’s website, posted under the “In the News” section, fired back, saying that “the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s PolitiFact franchise seems to have a hard time being honest about what words mean. It’s not surprising then that they’ve found a kindred spirit in former Sen. Russ Feingold.”

However, Johnson also used his official blog for campaign purposes on at least two other occasions – once to rebut a different PolitiFact story and once to attack a journalist who wrote about Johnson’s inane criticism of the Lego Movie.

But it gets better. In a clear admission of wrongdoing, Johnson has now deleted the three posts.

“Ron Johnson’s use of taxpayer resources for campaign purposes and subsequent admission of guilt by deleting the blog posts in question clearly shows he values his political future far more than the hard-earned dollars of working families in Wisconsin,” said Sadie Weiner, DSCC National Press Secretary. “Ron Johnson is clearly willing to cross any line and break any rule to salvage his dim re-election chances and owes Wisconsinites an apology for campaigning on their dime.”

BACKGROUND

JOHNSON HAS REPEATEDLY USED HIS OFFICIAL RESOURCES FOR POLITICAL PURPOSES, EVEN TO ATTACK FEINGOLD INCLUDING USING PHOTOS OF HIM

JUNE 2015: JOHNSON USED HIS OFFICIAL BLOG TO REBUT A POLITIFACT POST ABOUT HIS VIEWS ON STUDENT LOANS

June 2015: Johnson Posted A Rebuttal To A Politifact Rating Of A Feingold “Gaffe” Saying He Opposed All Government Assisted Loans. “The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s PolitiFact franchise seems to have a hard time being honest about what words mean. It’s not surprising, then, that they’ve found a kindred spirit in former Sen. Russ Feingold. The newspaper is covering for one of his gaffes, rating it as ‘mostly true.’  You be the judge.  First, the basic question: Senator Feingold said that Senator Johnson ‘is opposed to all government-assisted student loans.’” [Senator Ron Johnson Blog, 6/19/15]

  • Johnson’s Blog Post Featured A Photo Of Feingold. [Senator Ron Johnson Blog, 6/19/15]

 

 

  • Johnson Specifically Addressed His Political Opponent, Feingold, In His Blog Post. “Had Senator Feingold said that Senator Johnson has consistently pointed out that Washington policy on college assistance has serious negative unintended consequences, then he would have been right. Senator Johnson isn’t the first to say so: The U.S. secretary of education was making the case in the 1980s in the New York Times, for example, that increases in financial aid may enable colleges to raise tuition faster on the understanding that federal subsidies will help cushion the increase.” [Senator Ron Johnson Blog, 6/19/15]

 

 

MAY 2015: JOHNSON USED HIS OFFICIAL BLOG TO REBUT A POLITIFACT POST ABOUT WHETHER FEINGOLD WAS THE “DECIDING VOTE” ON THE ACA

May 2015: Johnson Posted A Rebuttal To A Politifact Rating Of His Statement That Feingold Was The “Deciding Vote” For The Affordable Care Act On His Official Senate Blog. “I have said — and I will go on saying — that my predecessor, then-Sen. Russ Feingold, was the deciding vote for Obamacare, which squeezed by the Senate with a one-vote margin. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel claims otherwise, saying that ‘There is an element of truth in Johnson’s claim’ but that it is ‘mostly false’ anyhow. This doesn’t surprise me, but it was disappointing that the newspaper didn’t bother sharing with readers the explanation I provided. I said, ‘I’ll point out Sen. Feingold was the deciding vote on Obamacare. That’s not working out so good for Wisconsinites.’” [Senator Ron Johnson Blog, 5/27/15]

 

MAY 2015: JOHNSON USED HIS OFFICIAL BLOG TO ATTACK A WRITER’S CRITICISM OF JOHNSON’S CLAIM THAT THE LEGO MOVIE WAS PROPAGANDA

 

May 2015: Johnson Attacked A “Liberal Writer” For Criticizing Him For Calling The Lego Movie Propaganda. “Some liberal writer at the Huffington Post was excited to find out that I’ve been talking to Wisconsinites about how enthusiastically the entertainment media spread a ‘business is bad’ message.  He seems to get hung up on the way I mentioned ‘The Lego Movie,’ a children’s movie ‘in which the bad guy is a heartless businessman intent on destroying the world for profit. ‘That’s done for a reason,’ Johnson said. ‘They’re starting that propaganda, and it’s insidious.’” [Senator Ron Johnson Blog, 5/28/15]

 

 

 

SENATE ETHICS SPECIFICALLY STATES THAT SENATE EMPLOYEES COULD NOT SPEND OFFICIAL WORK TIME USING OFFICE RESOURCES TO RESPOND TO A POLITICAL OPPONENT

 

Senate Ethics: Senate Employees Would Not Be Allowed To Spend Official Work Time Using The Office Computer Or Official Mailing List To Respond To A Political Opponent’s Attack. “Example 2. Senate staffer B works for Senator C and also volunteers on C’s campaign. C’s political opponent levels charges of ethical improprieties against her, which C believes require an immediate response. B may not spend official work time preparing the campaign’s response. He may use his lunch hour or accrued leave time to do the campaign work during what would normally be his working hours, assuming that his official duties will not thereby be neglected. Example 3. C asks B to prepare a response, after official working hours, to the charges raised by her political opponent. B may comply, but B may not stay late at the office, using Senate resources such as the office computer and the official mailing list, to do the campaign assignment.” [Senate Ethics Manual, accessed 6/23/15]

 

Senate Ethics: Senate Space, Equipment, Staff Time, And Resources Should Not Be Used To Assist Campaign Organizations. “Use of official resources to assist campaign organization—Senate space, equipment, staff time, and resources generally should not be used to assist campaign organizations..” [Senate Ethics Manual, accessed 6/23/15]

SENATE ETHICS DICTATES THAT TAXPAYER-FUNDED STAFF AND RESOURCES CANNOT BE USED FOR CAMPAIGN ACTIVITIES

Senate Ethics: Senate Employees “Are Compensated From Funds Of The Treasury” “To Perform Official Duties”, Not Campaign Work. “Senate employees are compensated from funds of the Treasury for regular performance of official duties. They are not paid to do campaign work. In the words of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia: ‘‘It is clear from the record that Congress has recognized the basic principle that government funds should not be spent to help incumbents gain reelection.’” [Senate Ethics Manual, accessed 6/23/15]

  • United States District Court For The District of Columbia: ‘‘Congress Has Recognized The Basic Principle That Government Funds Should Not Be Spent To Help Incumbents Gain Reelection.” [Senate Ethics Manual, accessed 6/23/15]

 

Senate Ethics: Because “Congressional Employees Receive Publicly Funded Salaries,” Campaign Activities Should Not Take Place On Senate Time, Using Senate Equipment Or Facilities. “This principle of federal appropriations law has been interpreted in Congress to mean that congressional employees receive publicly funded salaries for performance of official duties and, therefore, campaign or other non-official activities should not take place on Senate time, using Senate equipment or facilities.” [Senate Ethics Manual, accessed 6/23/15]

Senate Ethics: It Is Inappropriate To Use Any Official Resources To Conduct Campaign Or Political Activities. “Official resources may only be used for official purposes. This principle derives in large part from 31 U.S.C. § 1301(a), providing that official funds are to be used only for the purposes for which appropriated, as well as from statutory authorizations for allowances. 418 It is thus inappropriate to use any official resources to conduct campaign or political activities.” [Senate Ethics Manual, accessed 6/23/15]

IN RESPONSE TO AN ETHICS COMPLAINT, JOHNSON’S STAFF HAS DELETED ALL OF THE POSTS

In August 2015, American Democracy Legal Fund Submitted A Senate Ethics Complaint Regarding Johnson’s Use Of His Website. “We write to submit a sworn complaint against Senator Ron Johnson, pursuant to Rule 2 of the Rules of Procedure of the Senate Select Committee on Ethics. It has come to our attention that Senator Johnson has violated (1) 31 U.S.C. 1301(a), which provides that official resources made [sic] be used only for the purposes for which appropriated, and (2) the Senate Select Committee on Ethics’ Internet Policy, which prohibits the use of the Senate Internet for partisan political purposes.” [American Democracy Legal Fund, 8/3/15]

August 2015: Three Blog Posts Referencing The Journal-Sentinel, Politifact, And The Lego Movie Have Been Deleted.All three links to the blog posts are broken and no longer appear on Johnson’s blog on his Senate website. [Senator Ron Johnson Blog,5/27/15; Senator Ron Johnson Blog, 5/28/15; Senator Ron Johnson Blog, 6/19/15; Senator Ron Johnson Blog, accessed 8/4/15]

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