House GOP campaign arm faces ethics complaint over 'trackers' in Capitol buildings

House GOP campaign arm faces ethics complaint over 'trackers' in Capitol buildings
© Greg Nash

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) on Monday filed an ethics complaint calling for an investigation into the House GOP campaign arm and its chairman, Rep. Tom EmmerThomas (Tom) Earl EmmerHouse Democrats' campaign arm reserves .6M in ads in competitive districts The Hill's Convention Report: Trump to attack Biden at final night of convention | Speech comes amid hurricane, racial justice protests | Biden accuses Trump of 'rooting' for violence Republicans cast Trump as best choice for women MORE (R-Minn.), over the use of "trackers" filming lawmakers in Capitol Hill office buildings.

The DCCC argued in a letter to the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) that the National Republican Congressional Committees’s (NRCC) use of employees tracking and videotaping Democrats from competitive districts in the Capitol complex is a violation of House rules that prohibit the use of official resources for political purposes.

"The House Ethics Manual clearly and unequivocally states that House buildings and offices constitute official resources and must not be used for campaign or political activities. But that is exactly what Representative Emmer, through NRCC, appears to have done here," DCCC Executive Director Lucinda Guinn wrote in a letter to OCE chief counsel Omar Ashmawy.

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While the House ethics guidelines do not have formal rules about the use of campaign trackers, the DCCC pointed to the House ethics rules stating the House office buildings cannot be used for campaign or political activities, such as commercials or photos.

The NRCC has recently posted videos to social media of staffers hounding competitive district Democratic lawmakers about impeachment — and, last week, about whether they believed Qassem Soleimani, the top Iranian general killed in an airstrike ordered by President TrumpDonald John TrumpUS reimposes UN sanctions on Iran amid increasing tensions Jeff Flake: Republicans 'should hold the same position' on SCOTUS vacancy as 2016 Trump supporters chant 'Fill that seat' at North Carolina rally MORE this month, was a terrorist.

The videos were shared from the NRCC's official account as well as from staffers' individual accounts. They largely show Democratic lawmakers ignoring the shouted questions from campaign trackers as they walk in the hallways of House office buildings, which are accessible to the public. 

One tweet from the NRCC's account last week showed a staffer asking freshman Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-N.Y.) if he supported the strike against Soleimani.

"Yet another House Dem can't bring himself to admit that Soleimani was a terrorist. This time it's @RepBrindisi looking sad and lonely as he wanders the Capitol," the tweet reads.

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A spokesman for the NRCC dismissed the ethics complaint as frivolous.

Even though Emmer wasn't personally pursuing his Democratic colleagues in the Capitol hallways with a camera, the DCCC argued that the House ethics standards should apply since he chairs the NRCC.

"It is undisputed that a Member cannot film a campaign advertisement in a House building or hallway. It is equally undisputed the Members cannot circumvent this well-established ethics principle simply by filming a campaign advertisement for a Member's political party arm instead of their own reelection campaign, or by hiring others to do it for them," Guinn wrote.

The DCCC noted in a statement that neither party committee would allow campaign trackers to film in congressional office buildings because of the ethics rules banning the use of official resources for political purposes.

"House ethics rules exist to maintain decorum and order in the House of Representatives," Guinn added.