House Republicans Move to Blunt Ethics Issue
House Republicans are keeping busy these days.
Not content with their efforts to knock a top-tier Democrat out of the Ohio 6th District race, the National Republican Congressional Committee is trying to capitalize on the ethics question currently surrounding Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) by funding automated phone calls to voters represented by Mollohan and three other Democratic House members.
The calls are going into the districts held by Mollohan (W.Va.-1) and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.-5); they are also targeting voters represented by Melissa Bean (Ill.-8) and Chet Edwards (Texas-17) -- two of the biggest targets for Republicans this fall.
"I'm calling with an important congressional update," the call begins.
In the calls going to Mollohan's constituents, the script details the allegations against Mollohan, including his "orchestration of ear-marked pork barrel projects that may benefit him personally."
"These charges will bring Congressman Mollohan under scrutiny that could lead to an investigation into his activities," the caller continues before asking the listener to call Mollohan and ask him to resign from the House Ethics Committee. Mollohan has mounted a vigorous defense, charging that the complaint against him was crafted by a GOP-aligned group. (The Post's Tom Edsall wrote about it last week, as did The Fix.)
The scripts in the other three districts are quite similar, running through the list of allegations against Mollohan and then asking listeners to call their representative and ask him or her to call on Mollohan to step down from the Ethics Committee.
The only major difference between the call going to Mollohan's constituents and those going to voters represented by Emanuel, Bean and Edwards is that the latter makes mention of a New York Times editorial that called on Mollohan to resign his post as the ranking Democrat on the Ethics Committee until the Department of Justice concludes its probe into the complaint filed by the National Legal and Policy Center. (The Washington Post editorial page has also called on Mollohan to step aside.)
The phone banks are being run by Conquest Communications Group, which is based in Richmond, Va., according to independent expenditure reports filed with the Federal Election Commission this morning. The smallest expenditure is in Emanuel's district (a safe Democratic seat) at just $965.30. The NRCC is spending $3,100 to make the calls to Mollohan's district, $3,200 for calls to Edwards's district and $3,500 to Bean's.
While Emanuel's Chicago-area seat is impenetrable to a Republican challenge, Mollohan, Bean and Edwards are all being targeted by the NRCC this fall. Mollohan has held West Virginia's 1st District since 1982 and has rarely faced even a semi-serious challenge, but Republicans are already investing time and money to support state Del. Chris Wakim's (R) campaign.
Bean, who defeated longtime Rep. Phil Crane (R) in 2004, represents the most Republican district in Illinois and will be challenged by wealthy investment banker David McSweeney in the fall. Edwards is set to face off against Iraq war veteran Van Taylor (R) come November in a central Texas district where President Bush won 70 percent of the vote in 2004.
The calls represent the leading edge of Republicans' push back on the "culture of corruption" argument that Democrats have been voicing for months and which is likely to be a centerpiece of their campaign to reclaim congressional majorities. "Nancy Pelosi called for [Ohio Republican Rep.] Bob Ney to step down," said NRCC communications director Carl Forti. "She should do the same for Alan Mollohan." Ney, who is embroiled in the Jack Abramoff scandal, resigned as chairman of the House Administration Committee in January under pressure from the House Republican leadership.
Bill Burton, communications director at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, responded that "after spending a year saying that ethics wouldn't be an issue this cycle, it's no surprise that national Republicans are cynically using the issue to distract from their long litany of ethical problems from Ney, to [California Rep. Richard] Pombo all the way to the White House."
Phone banks can be effective in ginning up voter interest (and outrage), although they are rarely as effective at persuading voters as television and radio ads. For the moment, the automated calls serve the NRCC's purpose -- keep the issue bubbling in hopes of forcing a Mollohan resignation from the Ethics Committee, a move that could have consequences not just in his targeted reelection race but in contests across the country.
April 18, 2006; 4:00 PM ET
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