CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa --- Republican challenger Ben Lange has hit 1st District Rep. Bruce Braley with a second ethics complaint this month.
Lange filed a complaint with the U.S. House Office of Congressional Ethics Aug. 20 alleging that a Braley news conference and ride-along on a Union Pacific train from Fairfax to Marshalltown Aug. 17 was a violation of an ethics rule prohibiting members of Congress from using taxpayer resources to campaign outside their districts.
The Braley campaign responded by suggesting that filing “frivolous” complaints is part of the strategy of Lange and his supporters.
According to Lange, House ethics rules explicitly prohibit Members of Congress from using official House resources, paid for by taxpayers, for purposes outside of their current district. The prohibition extends to areas being added to an incumbent’s districts as a result of redistricting. Members may campaign in these new areas, but not at the taxpayers’ expense, he said.
In this case, neither Fairfax nor Marshalltown is in Braley’s current district. They are in counties being added to the 1st District where Braley and Lange are running.
The news conference and ride-along were part of an effort “to promote and support enhancements to infrastructure in Iowa,” according to Braley’s congressional office. Lange’s organization said it was a campaign event.
Earlier this month, a Dubuque GOP activist filed an ethics complaint against Braley, when the Waterloo Democrat scheduled a deficit reduction workshop in Cedar Rapids, which is not in the congressman’s district.
Although Braley’s chief of staff dismissed the complaint as having “no merit,” Braley cancelled the workshop.
“It’s like deja vu all over again,” said Jeff Giertz, Braley for Congress campaign manager. “In 2010, Ben Lange and his allies filed two complaints against Rep. Braley that were so frivolous they were never taken up by the Ethics Committee. That should tell you everything you need to know about the merit of Lange’s latest claims.”
Ethics complaints are first considered by the Office of Congressional Ethics. It is a fact-finding office. Its work is confidential although its’ findings may become public if referred to the House Ethics Committee. It does not determine whether there has been a violation or impose sanctions if an ethics breach has occurred.
According to its website – http://oce.house.gov – its investigations have two stages: a preliminary review, which is completed in 30 days; and a second-phase, which is completed in 45 days, with the possibility of a 14-day extension.
Two members – one appointed by the speaker of the House and the other by the minority leader -- may authorize a preliminary review if all available information provides a “reasonable basis” to believe that a violation may have occurred.
Three board members may authorize a second-phase review if all available information provides “probable cause” to believe a violation may have occurred. At the end of any second-phase review, the board must recommend to the Committee on Ethics either that it continue the review or dismiss it.
The eight-member OCE board includes former member members of Congress, former congressional staffers and private citizens.
In the April-June quarter, the office received 32 complaints, voted to terminate five and began a second-stage review of 22. Ten were referred for review and eight were referred for dismissal, according to the office’s website.