Democrat senator slapped with ethics complaint for using official website to push re-election campaign
FIRST ON FOX: Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., is facing an ethics complaint from a government watchdog organization after he used his official Senate website to promote his vulnerable 2024 re-election campaign.
Americans for Public Trust, an organization “dedicated to restoring trust in government by holding politicians and political groups accountable for corrupt and unethical behavior,” expects to file a complaint Thursday accusing Tester of violating Senate rules restricting the use of congressional resources for campaign purposes. The group says Tester violated those provisions when his office posted a Feb. 22 news story announcing his re-election campaign to his Senate website.
In a letter addressed to committee chair Chris Coons, D-Del., and ranking member James Lankford, R-Okla., Caitlin Sutherland, who serves as the executive director for the government watchdog group, wrote, “The posted article, which focuses almost exclusively on his reelection, includes an interview with Senator Tester himself and is rife with campaign rhetoric.”
“Topics included in the article range from the amount of campaign cash he has raised for his reelection to political consultants opining on his reelection chances, and even includes a history of his previous campaigns and how the GOP primary might impact his ability to be reelected,” Sutherland added.
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Two of the four examples cited by Sutherland as “politicized text” in the article, which remains on Tester’s website, included, “Tester on the ballot, along with new legislative districts and the still-fresh western U.S. House seat, could mean a strong year for Democrats showing up at the polls…” and “Tester’s campaign donations heading into the 2024 election cycle total $4.5 million, including $1.2 million in donations from political action committees.”
The U.S. Senate Ethics Manual states that it is “inappropriate” to use taxpayer funds appropriated to run congressional offices in order “to conduct campaign activity.”
Sutherland’s complaint points out that members are also advised “to make every effort to avoid any appearance that they would either provide or deny constituent service based on political affiliation or campaign contributions.”
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“The Senate has long recognized that a ‘public office is a public trust.’ In adhering to this well-founded principle, it is incumbent upon members of the Senate to ensure that the line between official Senate duties and campaign activity remains clear and unbreeched,” the complaint stated. “By posting a full-on campaign announcement to his official Senate webpage, Senator Jon Tester has failed to meet the high standard expected of the office of a United States Senator, and jeopardized the public trust that the Senate as an institution has pledged to protect.”
The complaint said the post to Tester’s official Senate webpage is “not only clearly at odds with federal law and Senate Ethics’ own provisions, it offends the most basic of public policies – that every constituent in Montana should feel like they can come to their United States Senator should they have an issue with a federal agency.”
“That is hardly the case when the member’s official webpage includes campaign statements from the Montana Democratic Party,” the complaint added. “In a vacuum, the use of official staff time and resources to post campaign material on Senator Tester’s official webpage is clearly violative of the relevant governing provisions. However, it is not just his present conduct that warrants concern, it is what could possibly follow-on should this behavior not be curtailed. How long before Montanans are subjected to partisan fundraising updates on Senator Tester’s official website, disguised as a simple ‘reposting’ of a news article?”
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In Tester’s situation, Sutherland said the “need for immediate action by the Select Committee is apparent and welcomed.”
First elected to represent Montana in the Senate in 2007, Tester announced last month that he would seek re-election for a fourth term in the Senate.
Tester, who is facing what is expected to be one of the toughest Senate races in 2024 as Republicans seek to regain control of the U.S. Senate, took aim at “multi-millionaires” last week during the 45th annual fundraising dinner for the Montana Democratic Party to kick off his campaign. Tester’s own net worth ranges between $1,768,009 and $6,695,000, according to Federal Election Commission data from 2021.