The thing is, Sen. Mary Landrieu — the Democratic incumbent — did nearly the same thing when she used footage of an official news conference in a campaign video late last year.
In December 2013, Landrieu ran an ad that included footage from a press conference. Republicans claimed that violated ethics because her Senate staff produced the press conference, which showed Landrieu in her official capacity as a U.S. senator.
This prompted the executive director of the Republican Party of Louisiana, Jason Dore, to write a letter to the Senate Select Committee on Ethics.
"The official footage included in Sen. Landrieu's campaign ad was recorded by employees compensated by the U.S. government and posted on the senator's official YouTube account by a member of her staff also compensated with taxpayer funds,” Dore wrote. “As such, the senator's use of official footage for campaign purposes is a clear violation of the federal law.”
Landrieu’s campaign manager, Adam Sullivan, told the Times-Picayune in New Orleans that the ad was not produced by the senator’s official office but by a third party. But the ad was featured on the senator’s official YouTube account. It was removed and the clip was replaced after the complaints.
It would make sense that Louisiana Democrats would want to hit back at Republicans with a “gotcha moment” to show hypocrisy over the Landrieu ad — but they had to trump up a non-offense to make it look like an ethics issue.
The Democrats’ press release is titled “Cassidy has been official Senate candidate for 24 hours, already violating Senate rules,” and points out that Senate rules prohibit “the use of coverage of Senate proceedings for political campaign purposes to solicit donations.”
Okay, but Cassidy is not a senator, so he can’t violate Senate rules and is not bound by them as a non-senator.
The Democrats also note that the House of Representatives has a similar rule barring representatives from using House footage. But nowhere in either rule does it say senators cannot use House footage or that Representatives cannot use Senate footage.
This fact didn’t stop the communications director of the Louisiana Democrats, Kirstin Alvanitakis, from trying to make the footage a campaign issue.
In a phone call with the Washington Examiner, Alvanitakis seemed surprised and a little indignant at the suggestion that Cassidy actually did nothing wrong, noting that he wanted to “hide behind lawyers and lawyers' tricks.”
But these aren’t tricks, they’re facts. Cassidy is a member of the House and is not barred from using Senate footage in his videos. Unless Louisiana Democrats are already conceding the race to Cassidy, he’s not a sitting senator or even a senator-elect.
The issue seems to be more of a vehicle to distract from recent reports that one of Landrieu’s campaign flights was paid for with taxpayer dollars.
Last November, Landrieu used tax dollars to charter a private plane to fly to a campaign fundraiser — a violation of the law. The campaign realized the error eight months later — in July 2014 and only after USA Today wrote an article noting that Landrieu spent $47,000 of taxpayer money on charter flights in 2013.
Fabien Levy, Landrieu’s campaign spokesman, told CNN earlier this month that the USA Today article prompted the scrutiny of the campaign’s travel records. Levy also said that the senator’s office was mistakenly billed by the company that chartered the flight when the campaign should have been the one charged.
But the campaign still violated the law.
Paul S. Ryan, senior counsel at the nonpartisan campaign watchdog Campaign Legal Center, said that it’s not the company’s responsibility to make sure the appropriate account is charged.
“It is the senator and the senator's staff [sic] responsibility to comply with federal laws. It's not the job of the vendor, per se,” Ryan told CNN. “It sounds like their excuse is, ‘We didn't do anything wrong; it's the vendor.’ ”
But Louisiana Democrats want people to focus on Cassidy’s video using footage he is completely free to use.
A spokesperson for Landrieu's campaign did not respond to an Examiner inquiry.