Apparently Congress has funding rules by which our representatives must abide. In a complaint to the Senate Ethics Committee, watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington questioned Sen. John McCain‘s mastery of those rules today. The complaint alleges that the former presidential hopeful misused cash from the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) to fund statewide robocalls boosting health care reform opposition in states with moderate democratic senators to target Blanche Lincoln (AR), Michael Bennet (CO), Ben Nelson (NE), Byron Dorgan (ND), and Kent Conrad (ND) this month. CREW explained the ethics breach in a press release:
CREW’s complaint alleges Sen. McCain violated Senate Rule 38, which prohibits senators from maintaining “unofficial office accounts,” meaning they cannot use private donations to support official senate activities and expenses. By urging voters to call their senators to urge them to support his motion, Sen. McCain was engaged in grassroots lobbying. This activity clearly was related to Sen. McCain’s official duties. By using an outside entity’s funds—those of the NRSC—to pay for expenses related to his official duties, Sen. McCain violated Senate rules.
Melanie Sloan, CREW’s executive director, said “The rules are clear: if Sen. McCain wanted to lobby voters in an effort to see his motion passed he should have paid for the calls himself. Ethics rules are not optional; all the rules apply all the time, not just the ones senators like and not just when it is convenient to follow them.” Sloan continued, “The Senate Ethics Committee should investigate the funding for the calls and if the NRSC in fact paid for them, sanction Sen. McCain appropriately.”
Admonishing McCain won’t save the public option, but it’s an unwelcome distraction for the senator, who trails a set of potential challengers for his long-held Arizona seat in 2010.