The House Oversight Committee, headed by Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), has been posting videos on its official YouTube account slamming the Obama administration. The latest campaign-style video features black-and-white photos of Obama, flickering video and shattering effects.
But less than a year ago, Issa was hitting the Obama administration for their public relations efforts, claiming that the administration’s “use of taxpayer dollars to engage in covert propaganda is disconcerting.”
Back in August, Issa said he wanted to “shed light on how taxpayer dollars are being spent to illegally further a political agenda.”
An Issa spokeswoman said that the committee’s issues with Obama’s ads were over the cost and the “statutes and precedents that made these ads problematic” and said that “equating the committee’s online efforts to highlight its work with expensive taxpayer funded television campaigns is incredibly misleading.”
“While most of the restrictions the Administration faces are based in federal law, the committee’s work is largely governed by the House Administration Committee,” Issa spokeswoman Becca Glover Watkins told TPM. “I’m also unaware that the committee has singled out any particular Obama Administration web videos for criticism.”
“It’s the Oversight Committee’s job and obligation to hold the Administration and the federal government accountable for how it spends taxpayer money,” Watkins said. “When the administration spends millions of taxpayer dollars on advertising, there’s a clear obligation to conduct rigorous oversight.”
There are rules which guide what kind of material members of the House can post on their official websites — the same rules that apply to the mail that taxpayers pay for. The messages aren’t supposed to be too political, they can’t mention elections and they can’t solicit support for legislation or a candidate. The problem is those rules aren’t enforced.
“My read continues to be that overly partisan use of taxpayer funded websites is a violation of the plain reading of the franking rules,” Lisa Gilbert of Public Citizen told TPM, describing Issa’s latest video as the “same kind of anti-Obama message” they’ve been posting for a long time.
“I think this is a loophole in the rules or an unenforced rule,” Gilbert said. “It’s happened before but I think this is the extreme.”
Gilbert said that it was “absolutely true” that the Issa videos are a violation of the franking rules, but said it is “hard to know what action to take because the rules are right, they’re just not being enforced.”
Issa’s latest video is aimed at the administration’s draft executive order which would make federal contractors disclose political donations to third-party political groups, which campaign finance reformers say would actually increase transparency. The ad features video from a recent hearing on the proposed executive order, where Issa slammed the idea as “Chicago hardball politics.”
[Ed. note: This article has been updated with additional comment from Watkins.]