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Rep. Katie Porter, California Senate hopeful, accused of violating congressional ethics rules

Complaint alleges that Porter ran political ads using taxpayer funds.

February 23, 2023 3:50pm

Updated: February 24, 2023 6:34am

The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT) is accusing U.S. Rep. Katie Porter, a leading contender for retiring Sen. Dianne Feinstein's Senate seat, of violating congressional ethics rules.

The group alleges that Porter, D-Irvine, ran political ads using taxpayer funds. The messaging and imagery of the ads were essentially identical to the ads from her campaign. That could violate House ethics rules that expressly forbid Members from using taxpayers funding for campaigns or political purposes.

As a result of the alleged infraction, FACT sent a letter of request to the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) calling for an immediate investigation.

“..we urge the Board to immediately investigate whether Representative Porter used official resources for campaign purposes in violation of federal law and the House ethics rules,” the FACT letter stated.

‘Federal law states that “appropriations shall be applied only to the objects for which the appropriations were made . . . .” The House ethics rules reinforce this law and prohibit Members from using taxpayer funded resources for campaign or political purposes. ... Any communication paid for by taxpayer funds “may only be used for official Congressional business” and cannot be used for any political purpose,”’ the letter pointed out.

The House of Representatives Communications Standards Manual also set out clear guidelines specifying examples of communications that are not allowed in official communications by representatives.

Porter’s congressional office and campaign organization used the services of the same vendor, Wavelength Strategy in both cases, producing “identical messaging,” of a political nature.

The letter, signed by the Executive Director of FACT, Kendra Arnold emphasized the importance of protecting taxpayers money from misuse. “The facts of this case demonstrate Rep. Porter used taxpayer funds to pay for political ads. The laws at issue in this case are extremely important because not only do they protect taxpayer funds from abuse, but they address the public perception that incumbents are simply using their office to run for reelection.”

From June to August 2022, Porter’s congressional office paid over $130,500 to Wavelength Strategy until rules prevented her from continuing to do so, then from February 2022 to November 2022, Porter’s campaign paid over $1.6 million to Wavelength Strategy to promote the same messaging.

Porter’s communications director Jordan Wong denied any impropriety in a statement to the Free Beacon, which first reported the potential ethical lapse. Wong "not(ed) that all public spending happened outside the '60-day black-out periods' before the election. Wong also insisted that Porter’s publicly funded materials were reviewed and approved by the bipartisan Communications Standards Commission, and that House rules permit lawmakers to use taxpayer money to update their constituents on legislative activities."

The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) to which FACT made its appeal is responsible for ensuring each House representative obeys ethical rules accordingly. OCE reviews information accordingly and refers findings of fact to the House Committee on Ethics and where necessary recommends House discipline of Members and staff. In recent times however, the OCE has taken up fewer, but more serious cases. The last time a member was expelled was in 2002.

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