Democrats sought to bunch together House Republican members of a committee critical of a $20 billion oil spill relief account funded by BP, labeling them "The BP 114."
Democrats are trying to explicitly tie the 114-member Republican Study Committee (RSC) to a top Republican's apology to BP this week for the government's actions to compel BP to create the $20 billion fund to pay out claims to victims of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
The Democratic National Committee (DNC) took steps this weekend to cast RSC members as in agreement with Rep. Joe Barton's (R-Texas) apology to BP CEO Tony Hayward during a hearing this past week through its extensive email list and an online ad buy.
At issue are remarks similar in tone by Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), the chairman of the group of House conservatives, along some other members of the group, that were critical of the fund. Price said the creation of the fund was a result of "Chicago-style shakedown politics" by President Barack Obama and his administration, which pressured BP into creating the relief fund.
(Barton called the account a "slush fund," and echoed the "shakedown" claim.)
Many RSC members have been sharply critical of Barton's apologetic remarks to Hayward on Thursday. Reps. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) and Joe Bonner (R-Ala.) have demanded Barton's resignation as ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Two other members of the study committee who also serve as members of leadership, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) and Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.), have also called Barton's remarks "wrong."
Still, Democrats have gone to great lengths to portray RSC members' views as in lockstep with Barton's sentiments.
"While a Republicans criticized Barton once he became a PR problem, not a single member disagreed with the RSC attack on the accountability fund which happened the day before Barton's comments," noted DNC national press secretary Hari Sevugan.
To that end, the DNC sent out emails to the districts of the 114 members of the committee, which included tools allowing recipients to easily call local radio stations and express opinions on the members. The DNC also started running Google ads redirecting users who search for members of the committee to a Democratic-hosted page criticizing RSC members for their views on the oil spill.
"Rep. Price stated from the very beginning that BP should be held fully responsible for this tragedy. Rather than focus on responding competently to this crisis, Democrats are focused entirely on playing politics to cover up their lack of leadership," said Price spokesman Ryan Murphy. "The American people are looking for solutions not the same, tired political games. Republicans have solutions and that is why the Democrats are now grasping at political straws."
The "BP 114" effort is part of a broader political push by Democrats in Congress and the White House to capitalize on Barton's remarks, which the DNC claimed was a "pivot point" in the debate over the oil spill. President Barack Obama had been suffering from flagging approval ratings over his handling of the ecological crisis, but Democrats seized on Barton's controversial statement in an effort to get traction on the spill as an issue.
Updated 9:16 a.m.