WASHINGTON - Seeking maximum political gain from the string of controversies swirling around the White House, Republicans are on the attack against Democratic lawmakers - including North Country Rep. Bill Owens - who accepted donations from the union that represents Internal Revenue Service employees.
But here's the rub: About a dozen current and former Republican lawmakers took the same cash.
Among them is Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, a GOP establishment favorite running to claim a Democratic-held Senate seat next year in West Virginia. Capito took $2,000 from the union last September, Federal Election Commission records show.
Rep. Bill Owens
On Facebook and search engine StumbleUpon, House Republicans are running paid ads blasting Democrats such as Owens for feigning "faux outrage" over the IRS scandal, in which the agency apologized for unfairly targeting tea party groups, while furtively holding on to donations from the agency. They're calling on Democrats to give the cash back.
"No wonder Bill Owens wants higher taxes his campaign is funded by the IRS," NRCC Communications Director Andrea Bozek said in a press release Friday. "He should be ashamed of himself. It's time for him to come clean and return the contributions immediately."
"Scandal widens," the National Republican Congressional Committee's policy director, Jordan Davis, wrote on Facebook.
The argument goes something like this: Not only did the IRS favor Democrats by impeding their opponents through the tax code; they're also funneling money directly to Democratic candidates. And that makes Democrats complacent in the whole mess.
Not quite. The IRS, as a government agency, can't donate to candidates. The National Treasury Employees Union, which made the donations, represents employees from more than 30 federal agencies ranging from divisions of the Agriculture Department to the Social Security Administration. The IRS is just one of those agencies.
The rush to cast Democrats as tainted by an issue that also touches a number of Republicans could give Democrats an opening to argue that the GOP is overplaying its hand as the Obama administration defends itself over the IRS scandal, the terrorist attack in Libya, and the government's seizure of The Associated Press' telephone records.
National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brad Dayspring defended his group's attack by pointing out that unlike Capito, Democrats like New York Sen. Charles Schumer took the money while also calling for tighter IRS restrictions on tax-exempt groups like the ones the IRS has admitted it targeted.
The NRCC, which promotes House GOP candidates, said it isn't calling on Republican lawmakers to give back the money - just Democrats - but rejected the suggestion that unidirectional criticism was hypocritical. Spokesman Dan Scarpinato noted that the overwhelming majority of the union's donations went to Democrats.
"Clearly this agency is not only scandal-ridden but also highly biased, which is reflective in both the cash they've pumped into Democrat candidates and the fact that they have targeted conservative groups," he said.