National Journal: Wave of Ethics Complaints Hits Top Races

Sarah Mimms
Oct 9, 2014
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As Election Day nears, allegations are often designed to generate headlines, not investigations.   But for many of these groups, the result of a complaint isn't nearly as important as filing the complaint itself. "It's just a political tactic," says Meredith McGehee, the policy director for the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan watchdog group, and a longtime ethics advocate. ...

The practice is hardly new, McGehee said. "It's been a fairly common political tactic certainly in the last 20 years," she said. "Though I would note that it seems to kind of go in and out of fashion. … Some cycles you see more of it than others."

The ADLF represents a new breed of complainant in what McGehee terms "Dark Arts Campaigning 101." ...

"This looks like a pretty clear and straightforward attempt to go after one party," McGehee said. "I have to say I haven't really seen that before in this way. The groups that have been involved [in filing ethics complaints] have generally been pretty careful about trying to stay nonpartisan. This is kind of a different take on it." ...

"To me, I look at these when they're filed so close to the election—the intent is to influence the outcome of the election," McGehee said.

Regardless of the eventual outcome—and the motivations of the filer—the specter of an ethics inquiry can still be damaging to a candidate heading into Election Day. And that's what many of these groups, Berke and McGehee say, are counting on.

"Everybody knows it's not going to get resolved between now and the election. Everybody knows it's a tactic. But, for the people who don't pay attention, it's a good lick to get in on your opponent," McGehee said.

McGehee and Berke said they worry that more and more groups dedicated specifically to filing ethics complaints against members of the opposing party in an election year, like the ADLF, will begin to emerge. ...

McGehee said she worries specifically that a flood of complaints with clear partisan goals could further turn off an electorate that already questions the ethics of their elected officials. "I think it turns people off from the process, and that's dangerous," she said. "When you start going down a partisan path, I think—to me, it begins to undermine the work that is done to try and say that, look, these are common standards that everyone regardless of partisan ideology agrees upon. And I think that's an incredibly important kind of line and principle to have, regardless of whether you're Republican or Democrat."

To read the full article in the National Journal, click here.

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