Watchdog group CREW files ethics complaint against Issa over state dinners video

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News,Watchdog,Richard Pollock

A watchdog group today filed an ethics complaint against U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa about an online video criticizing President Obama's extravagant spending on state dinners.

Meanwhile, it appeared the group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, has backed down from its earlier criticism of the committee's use of social media to tout the video.

It's the second ethics complaint filed this year by CREW against Issa.

The web video was produced and distributed by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, chaired by Issa, a California Republican.

CREW charges that a video posted Nov. 2 criticizing lavish White House spending was a "negative political ad."

The group filed the complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics, which, if it finds merit, can refer it to the House Ethics Committee. (See CREW's letter to the Office of Congressional Ethics in the document viewer embedded below this story.)

The committee's video, titled "All the President's Parties" and posted on YouTube, compares a $1 million White House state dinner for Mexican President Felipe Calderón and other half-million-dollar dinners to the $840,000 Las Vegas spending spree by the General Services Administration for a conference. (See the complete video in the player embedded above this story.)

The group complained the video made no reference to committee actions and did not put "into context" the $969,000 price tag for White House dinners.

"It is nothing more than a negative political advertisement against President Obama," CREW's complaint states. The video was posted four days prior to the November presidential election.

The Washington Examiner disclosed the state dinner expenditures in an Oct. 25 story.

As chairman of the influential oversight committee, Issa has been an outspoken critic of the president and wasteful federal spending. CREW, meanwhile, has increased its tempo of criticism against Issa. Twice this year the group has named him its "Scoundrel of the Month."

A spokeswoman for the Republican majority on the House Oversight committee defended the state dinners video, calling the complaint "frivolous," and saying, "Chairman Issa's communication efforts fall squarely within House rules."

The committee's prime jurisdiction is wasteful government spending. In April, it held a lengthy hearing on the GSA scandal. In May, it focused on the shortage of inspectors general, who are official watchdogs of federal spending.

The committee has previously produced numerous videos critical of government spending.

Issa, acting as committee chairman, sent an official letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Nov. 1 demanding documents and information about White House spending on state dinners.

In its letter to the ethics committee, CREW appears to have backed down on its criticism of the committee's use of social media, particularly Issa's use of his official Twitter account to distribute the video.

CREW's executive director, Melanie Sloan, told The Examiner earlier this week that Issa's Tweets on the video constituted "unsolicited mass communication" that is banned under House rules.

Reforms enacted in 2007 permit members of Congress to send Tweets about official business. They do not permit electioneering.

House Oversight committee spokeswoman Becca Watkins said CREW's actions were not balanced, noting its silence about Democratic House members who have sent Tweets on polls, elections and political news, including one sent by the House Democrats accusing House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, of having "Romnesia."

CREW's previous ethics complaint against Issa was filed in July about the committee's probe into the botched federal gun-trafficking program called "Fast and Furious."

The group has characterized Issa's "Fast and Furious" probe as a "witch hunt." A 471-page Justice Department Inspector General's report faulted 14 federal officials for the program, which delivered thousands of guns to Mexican drug dealers.

Last summer the full House also held in contempt U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder for failing to disclose documents on the controversy. It was the first time Congress had ever held a sitting cabinet member in contempt.

Contact Richard Pollock at rpollock@washingtonexaminer.com.

Follow all the work of the Washington Examiner's Watchdog team -- now on Facebook, Google Plus and Twitter (@WshExWatchdog).

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