Dem Rep. Porter accused in ethics complaint of abusing taxpayer funds for political purposes

February 24, 2023
Ben Marquis

Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA), a self-styled anti-corruption progressive who was an outspoken opponent of former President Donald Trump's administration, appears to be in a bit of potential trouble as she gets ready to launch a campaign for the U.S. Senate.

An ethics complaint has been filed by a government watchdog group and alleges that Porter may have corruptly used official business-only taxpayer funding for partisan political purposes, Breitbart reported.

Ethics complaint filed

In a Wednesday letter addressed to the Office of Congressional Ethics, the watchdog group Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust's Executive Director Kendra Arnold called upon that office to "immediately investigate whether Representative Katie Porter abused official resources for political purposes."

"In 2022, Rep. Porter’s congressional office used taxpayer funds to run ads that are overtly political. These ads contained identical messaging or images to ads that her campaign ran and were often times completely indistinguishable from her campaign ads," Arnold wrote and provided a few examples of the strikingly similar ads.

The FACT complaint letter noted that both Porter's campaign and congressional office had simultaneously used the same Democratic digital ad vendor, Wavelength Strategy, with the campaign paying the vendor approximately $1.6 million over most of 2022 while the office paid the vendor more than $130,000 for a brief three-month period over the summer.

That would appear to violate both federal law and House ethics rules that specifically prohibit congressional members from using appropriated "taxpayer-funded resources for campaign or political purposes" and only allow such resources to be used for "official communications" purposes.

It's all the same

The FACT complaint letter went on to reiterate the many similarities in appearance and messaging between the ads produced for Rep. Porter's office and her campaign and highlighted that they were all produced by the same vendor.

"Her use of a single vendor to run substantially similar ads indicates Porter was either using taxpayer funds to disseminate campaign materials or using campaign funds to distribute official materials -- neither is allowed," the group's executive director wrote.

"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," the letter stated. "The reason for that perception is quite evident in Rep. Porter’s actions. Moreover, her use of official resources in this case does not reflect credibly on the House."

"The Office of Congressional Ethics is responsible for ensuring each Representative fulfills the public trust inherent in the office and that they comply with the House’s ethical standards. Therefore, 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," Arnold concluded.

Congresswoman's office claims no wrongdoing occurred

According to The Washington Free Beacon, Rep. Porter's office spent at least $227,000 in taxpayer funds in 2022 for digital ads and physical mailers to send to constituents that featured the same imagery and political messaging as her campaign ads.

"The law absolutely prohibits members from using taxpayer dollars for political purposes," FACT's Arnold told the Free Beacon. "Clearly running political-style campaign ads with official funds would fall under this rule."

The congresswoman's office has pushed back, though, as Communications Director Jordan Wong insisted that no wrongdoing had occurred, that the office fully abided by House ethics rules, that the office materials had been reviewed and approved by the bipartisan House Communications Standards Commission, and that it was permissible to update constituents of legislative activities in such fashion.

However, Arnold said, "If the substance of a taxpayer-funded ad and a campaign ad are substantially similar or identical, that indicates both are in fact for a political purpose and both are campaign ads," and added, "In this case, it appears that not only was the substance of many of the ads similar or the same, but also the same vendor was used by her campaign and her congressional office and many ads were disseminated in the same way."

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