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Iowa Democrats ask U.S. House ethics body to investigate Hinson

Iowa Democrats ask U.S. House ethics body to investigate Hinson

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DES MOINES — The Iowa Democratic Party has asked a nonpartisan U.S. House ethics body to investigate Republican U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson over what the Democrats say are ethics violations, an accusation the Congresswoman’s office disputes.

The Democratic Party’s request was filed Monday with the independent and nonpartisan U.S. House Office of Congressional Ethics. The Democrats’ request alleges Hinson, a first-term Republican Congresswoman from eastern Iowa’s 1st District, used official office resources to conduct grassroots lobbying, which the Democrats allege violates House ethics rules.

Specifically, the request says Hinson used official office social media accounts to lobby people on a Democrat-led challenge to the election results in eastern Iowa’s 2nd District. The Democratic Party’s request notes that, in a series of videos, Hinson asks people to contact their representatives to urge them to reject the Democrats’ challenge of the 2nd District election results.

Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks defeated Democrat Rita Hart by just six votes in the 2nd District race in November's elections. Hart’s campaign has petitioned a U.S. House committee to review the results, given what the Hart campaign believes are ballots that were legally cast but not counted in the results.

“On multiple occasions, Rep. Hinson has used her official social media accounts to solicit support from the general public for her opposition to an outstanding contest petition in a neighboring congressional district,” says the request, which is signed by Iowa Democratic Party chairman Mark Smith. “(Hinson) has repeatedly urged her constituents and followers to call Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi and other representatives and tell them not to support the contest petition.”

Since the Hart campaign challenged in the election results in the U.S. House, the issue is official House business, Hinson’s office said. And Hinson’s staff pointed to myriad examples of U.S. House Democrats also using official office social media channels to encourage constituents to lobby fellow House members on various issues.

“Ashley is working hard every day to serve Iowans and bring folks together to get things done. Congress does not decide elections, voters do, and Ashley will continue to work to ensure that remains the case,” Sophie Seid, a spokeswoman for Rep. Hinson, said in an emailed statement.

Republican Party of Iowa chairman Jeff Kaufmann also said the 2nd District race became U.S. House business by way of the Hart campaign’s petition.

“When Rita Hart asked Speaker Pelosi to decide this case instead of Iowa voters or the courts, she made this race official business of the U.S. Congress. This is just another embarrassing, failed effort from the Iowa Democratic Party,” Kaufmann said in an emailed statement.

The Office of Congressional Ethics, according to its website, reviews allegations of misconduct against House members and staff. When appropriate, the office refers investigations to the House Ethics Committee for further review.

The office has up to 30 days to conduct the initial review, and up to 45 days more if further review is required.

According to its year-end report, the House Ethics Committee publicly addressed 16 investigations during the most recent two-year session of Congress. Most the cases dealt with financial issues, such as improper campaign donations or improper income, or allegations of inappropriate behavior like sexual harassment or improper sexual relationships.

A cursory review of recent cases found no reviews of grassroots lobbying with official office resources. The most recent similar case would be from 2018, when the office and committee investigated whether a Congressman used his official office resources to conduct campaign business. The office submitted the issue for further review, and the committee made no public statement on the matter.

A spokesman for the Office of Congressional Ethics said the office's rules prohibit commenting on specific complaints.

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