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Overreaching in Ohio

Democratic 527 group attacks a member of the GOP leadership for privately-funded junkets, but relies on old data

September 13, 2006

Modified: September 13, 2006

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Summary

 

An ad by a new outside group, Majority Action, which is co-chaired by former Democratic National Committee co-chairman Joe Andrew, attacks Ohio Republican Rep. Deborah Pryce for traveling too much at the expense of "big special interests," weakening ethics rules and trying to block a probe of infamous and indicted Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

But Pryce's overseas travel with private interests footing the bill stopped in January 2001, except for a journey to Israel in 2005, and her domestic trips have been fairly modest. The ad has it right when it says she voted to weaken ethics rules, though it's off-base when it says she wanted "to stop" an Abramoff investigation. Instead, she voted against a highly partisan resolution that would have urged the House ethics committee to open a probe of lawmakers and staff implicated in the Abramoff scandals.

Analysis

Pryce's race is on everybody's hotlist, so it's no surprise to see outside groups playing a role. The ad, which ran for a week ending Sept. 13 on broadcast and cable in Columbus and other markets in Pryce's district, is posted on Majority Action's website.

When in Rome?

The ad's first claim is that while Congress is broken, “Deborah Pryce just seems to be on vacation.” That’s a stretch. Pryce did travel to Puerto Rico, Rome and the Grand Cayman Islands , as the narrator tells us. But she took those trips back in 2000 and 2001. More recently, according to travel records Pryce has filed with the Clerk of the House and a joint study by American RadioWorks and the Center for Public Integrity, Pryce has greatly scaled back her privately-funded travel, staying inside U.S. borders except for a trip to Israel last year.

Majority Action Ad "Spotlight on Rep. Pryce"

Announcer: Congress is broken. And Congresswoman Deborah Pryce just seems to be on vacation. Pryce has traveled to Puerto Rico, Rome, even the Grand Cayman Islands.

(Text on screen: Trips to Puerto Rico. Trips to Rome. Trips to Grand Cayman Islands)

She's taken thousands of dollars in travel paid for by big special interests in Washington. (Text on screen: Thousands of Dollars. Big Special Interests)

And when she's not traveling, Pryce votes to weaken ethics rules and stop an investigation into indicted Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. (Text on screen: Votes to Weaken Ethics Rules. Abramoff: Convicted)

Tell Congresswoman Pryce that her job isn't to take special trips around the globe, it's to work for us. (Text on screen: Tell Congresswoman Pryce No More Trips. Work for Us)

Majority Action is responsible for the content of this ad.

(Standard Text Messaging Rates Apply. Paid For By Majority Action www.majorityaction.net And Not Authorized By Any Candidate Or Candidate's Committee; Majority Action is responsible for the content of this advertising.)

From Jan. 2000 until now, Pryce has  spent 52 days on privately-funded trips, some of which were weekends. We’ll leave it up to you to decide if that’s a lot, but in our judgment it's pushing it to say Pryce “just seems to be on vacation.” As for "big special interests" being behind the trips, the American Trucking Association and the Wine Spirits Wholesalers Association certainly fit into that category. The pro-Republican Ripon Educational Fund, which paid for Pryce's trip to Rome, is run mostly by lobbyists, who fund a confab for lawmakers in Europe each year and go along for the elbow-rubbing opportunities. Five of Pryce's trips, mostly Republican planning retreats to the countryside near Washington, came courtesy of the Congressional Institute, a nonprofit that is funded with corporate money and run by GOP lobbyists.

Defanging the Watchdog

Pryce did vote to “weaken” ethics rules, as the ad notes, supporting  a resolution in Jan. 2000 to change the rules of the committee that serves as the House’s ethics cop so that complaints against lawmakers could be dismissed more easily. That action ignited a partisan battle, with Democrats blocking the committee from conducting business for months. We have no quibble with that charge.

But Pryce didn’t exactly vote to “stop an investigation into indicted Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff,” which implies that she voted to force the Justice Department to back off its ongoing probe of Abramoff and his doings . There wasn’t such a vote. What Pryce did was vote  to table, or kill, a resolution sponsored by Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi to instruct  the House ethics committee to investigate any lawmakers and staffers implicated in the Abramoff scandals. Of course, the resolution was framed in extremely partisan terms. As part of the preamble, Pelosi accused the GOP of subverting the ethics panel:

Pelosi Whereas in the first session of the 109th Congress, for the first time in the history of the House of Representatives, the rules of procedure of the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct were changed on a partisan basis, the Chairman of the Committee and two of his Republican Colleagues were dismissed from the Committee, the newly appointed Chairman of the Committee improperly and unilaterally fired non-partisan staff, and the Chairman attempted to appoint supervisory staff without a vote of the Committee in direct contravention of the intent of the bi-partisan procedures adopted in 1997....

The vote on the resolution came two days after Rep. Tom DeLay, the number two Republican in the House, announced his resignation, in part due to l'affaire Abramoff.

-by Viveca Novak

Sources

Chris Cillizza, "New Group is Racing to Slow Down GOP," Washington Post 7 Sept. 2006: A10

Ben Pershing, "Democrats' Retreat Funding at Issue," Roll Call  6 April 2006.

Mike Allen, "GOP to Reverse Ethics Rule Blocking New DeLay Probe," Washington Post  27 April 2005.