Watchdog Accuses Three House Democrats of Ethics Violations

Democratic Reps. Susan Wild (Pa.), Kurt Schrader (Ore.), and Tom O'Halleran (Ariz.) / Twitter
March 12, 2021

A trio of Democratic representatives violated House ethics rules by linking to official press releases on their campaign websites, according to a government watchdog group.

The ethics complaints filed to the Office of Congressional Ethics from the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT) allege that Democratic Reps. Susan Wild (Pa.), Kurt Schrader (Ore.), and Tom O'Halleran (Ariz.) misused government resources. The complaints allege a variety of wrongdoings by the representatives, including linking their campaign pages to official press releases and video clips from congressional hearings.

Kendra Arnold, FACT's executive director, criticized the three Democrats for "clear and straightforward violations" and asked the Office of Congressional Ethics to hold them "accountable for breaking one of the most basic rules."

While FACT says all three Democrats link to official press releases on their campaign websites, a violation of House rules, O'Halleran's violations are the most numerous. FACT lists seven allegations of wrongdoing on its complaint to the Office of Congressional Ethics. O'Halleran's campaign page links to his speeches on the House floor as well as an official press release, both of which run afoul of ethics rules.

One of the examples FACT cites in its complaint is that O'Halleran's campaign website and taxpayer-funded government page feature the same release, "House Passes O'Halleran-Led Energy and Climate Package." His campaign defended the posts by noting that it linked to the release through a third-party website.

FACT, however, claims this defense insufficient. "The Ethics Manual is clear that Members cannot republish official materials even if they were published by a third-party," Arnold said. "If the Member cannot publish the materials in the first place, he cannot use a third-party source to publish the official materials. For example, a Representative cannot use an official House photo even if the source of the photo is from a third-party who published it."

"O'Halleran's campaign website actually published content that has direct links to official government pages," Arnold explained. "This is not allowed and it does not matter whether he is republishing content originally run on another site. If it were allowed, the ethics rules would have no meaning."

In its section on campaign activity, the House Ethics Manual bans members from using their official materials in any campaign capacity. "Member campaign websites … may not include a link to the Member's House website," the handbook notes. "The Member's House website may not be advertised on his or her campaign website or in materials issued by the campaign."

FACT says linking to news stories that include official materials is a violation of ethics rules. A now-inactive link on Representative Wild's campaign website, for example, is to an article that cites her official press releases six times.

FACT supplied the Office of Congressional Ethics with six examples of Wild's campaign linking to official resources and three of Schrader's campaign doing the same. The watchdog is asking the ethics office to stop "ongoing ethics violations" that it says the three Democrats are committing.

The offices of Schrader and Wild did not respond to requests for comment about the allegations against them.