Possible Election Law Violation in Linder E-Mail Endorsement

By Jeff Johnson | July 7, 2008 | 8:29 PM EDT

Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - An e-mail message announcing an endorsement of Republican Congressman John Linder for Georgia's Seventh Congressional District was sent from an official House of Representatives e-mail account, a possible violation of House rules and federal law.

The electronic message, which announced the endorsement of Linder by former GOP congressmen Jack Kingston and Mac Collins, was sent to members of the news media from the "mail.house.gov" e-mail account of Linder's congressional Press Secretary, Ginny Hudson.

The e-mail was sent the day before the Aug. 20 primary election in Georgia, in which Linder defeated fellow Republican incumbent Bob Barr.

Bo Harmon, Linder's campaign manager, originally disputed having sent Hudson the message. "No, it was sent out (to the media) on my e-mail account," Harmon initially said.

But after confirming Hudson's House of Representatives e-mail address in the "From:" field of the message, Harmon conceded that he did send the correspondence to Hudson, who then transmitted it to the media from her House e-mail account.

"She may have forwarded it on to some of the reporters she works with," Harmon speculated, "but it originated with me here at the campaign."

Harmon told CNSNews.com he was just trying to keep Hudson informed of the campaign's activities.

"Oftentimes I will forward her the press releases we do from the campaign side, and if she sent it on to some of the reporters she may have on her list that I don't, then - I don't know," Harmon said. "But it's not anything that originated there certainly."

Based on the language of House rules, the e-mail transmission appears to be a possible violation of guidelines.

"Among the specific activities that clearly may not be undertaken in a congressional office or using House resources (including official staff time) are ... the creation or issuance of a campaign mailing," reads a portion of a House Ethics Committee publication entitled 'Campaign Activity.'

While Hudson acknowledged having forwarded the campaign message from her House e-mail account, it's unclear whether relaying such information crosses the line regarding the "creation or issuance" of political material.

However, House rules specifically address press releases announcing political endorsements. "The Member may not issue the release out of his House office or use any House resources (including his official press release letterhead) in making the announcement," according to the guidelines.

Hudson told CNSNews.com she believes the message was supposed to have been sent to the news media from the campaign's e-mail address, not from her House of Representatives e-mail account.

"I believe that it probably was," Hudson said.

The campaign activity also raises questions involving federal law, specifically, 39 USC 3210, which covers congressional "franking" or free mail privileges.

"It is the intent of the Congress that a Member of, or Member-elect to Congress may not mail as franked mail... matter which specifically solicits political support for the sender or any other person or any political party, or a vote or financial assistance for any candidate for any public office," the statute reads.

The House Campaign Activity rules also warn that, "E-mails sent by a congressional office must likewise comply with the Franking Regulations."

Telephone calls to the campaign headquarters of Linder's opponent, Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.), seeking comment on the allegations against the Linder campaign were not returned.

Linder defeated Barr in the Aug. 20 primary election in Georgia's newly created Seventh Congressional District, which was re-drawn by the state's Democrat-controlled legislature to pit two Republican incumbents against each other.

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