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Boxer and Murray Face Ethics Questions on Use of Gov’t Employees by Campaigns

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) is facing an Election Eve crisis concerning ethics complaints over requests made to California teachers to enlist students as volunteers in her close race against Republican challenger Carly Fiorina.

The condensed version: Powerful Democratic incumbent Senator leverages influence with public employees, hurdles ethical and legal barriers as only a woman of the people can, and appropriates harnesses public resources in their campaign for re-election. After re-election, go back to the beginning and repeat as needed.

Jonathan Strong writing this morning at The Daily Caller illuminates:

In a close election race against former Hewlett-Packard executive Carly Fiorina, California Democrat Sen. Barbara Boxer is facing new ethics complaints over asking teachers to send their students to work for her campaign.

In an Oct. 27 letter to California education authorities, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association (HJTA), a non-profit group urging lower taxes, said, “In abject ignorance of California state law, the political campaign of Senator Barbara Boxer has openly solicited teachers employed by [Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD)] to urge their students to volunteer for her campaign.” …

HJTA’s letter cites a portion of California law governing teachers’ conduct which makes it illegal for teachers to solicit political support of students, including donations and volunteer work.

Being conscripted into the army of the damned and delusional that is the Boxer campaign should qualify for at least an honorable mention from the Guinness World Record folks as the scariest field trip, ever.

If the scenario seems vaguely familiar to Washington State voters, it’s because investigation has already uncovered a similar “outreach” program between Sen. Patty Murray’s (D-Wash.) campaign and employees working in the state’s unemployment system. Murray, rather than pulling students away from their homework, sought to convince unemployed veterans that their time would be better spent knocking on doors for her than seeking employment in desperate economic times.

Documents previously obtained through a public records request confirmed that on August 12th a veterans representative with WorkSource – the client services arm of Washington’s Employment Security Department – used her access to a list of approximately 300 veterans to make a direct appeal to former servicemen and women to pound the pavement for Murray. The email suggested that veterans could “walk and knock” in advance of the primary election, “[s]pecifically for Patty Murray” who the state worker said “has done a lot for the Veterans of our community.”

Shortly after the message went out, replies began to roll in to the worker and superiors. Many of the responses expressed shock at having received a tacit endorsement of a candidate for office from a supposedly neutral agency of the government. Within hours, news of the issue went quickly up the ladder, eliciting the attention of the southwest Washington area director of Employment Security.

Employment Security spokeswoman Sheryl Hutchison has stated to the press the employee’s actions constituted a violation of the law. To its credit, Employment Security promptly referred the matter over to the State Executive Ethics Board for an investigation that is now underway, but no action has been taken to conclude what party was soliciting the employee to break the law. Other documents reveal, though, that such a solicitation did, either explicitly or implicitly, occur.

During the frenzy of damage control, the WorkSource employee responded to complaints from inflamed vets and to questions from superiors. Those emails contain the clues that the government worker was not acting as a lone wolf political operative.

While apologizing to one veteran, she confides to being “asked to contact Veterans,” and in another email to her manager writes, “When I met with the local reps yesterday they asked if we could get the word out about their events, specifically to Veterans.”

Who is referred to in the phrase “local reps” remains unclear. Conceivably, they could be as innocuous as representatives of the company that services the vending machines in the break room. More likely, it may refer to union representatives (the worker was in constant communication with her union rep during the time the email campaign was underway) or representatives of the Murray campaign.

Repeated inquiries made to the Murray campaign for clarity on their involvement or lack thereof have not been responded to, leaving space for speculation that the impulse to use veteran-friendly affinity groups in southwestern Washington – even if it involved unethical tactics – intersected with legitimate political incentives.

Vancouver is a center of political gravity in the 3rd Congressional District, a swing territory that also has a sizable ex-military population. Primary polling in the Washington 3rd – a seat left open by the retirement of Rep. Brian Baird (D) – was routinely showing the two Republicans in the race eating up a large percentage of votes compared to the lone Democrat. In a close statewide race, shoring up support in places like the 3rd District could be critical.

The latest Rasmussen poll in the Washington Senate race has Republican challenger Dino Rossi leading by a single point, with two percent of likely voters still undecided.

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[Cross-posted by author from Red County.]

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