Did Stefanik violate ethics rules with video links?
Candidates trade accusations as House ethics office reviews complaint by Tupper Laker
TUPPER LAKE — A Tupper Laker lodged an ethics complaint in December accusing U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik’s campaign of using House floor footage improperly for campaign reasons. The complaint is under review by the Office of Congressional Ethics.
Stefanik’s Democratic opponent in the upcoming November election, Tedra Cobb of Canton, said Stefanik violated House rules. Stefanik’s campaign said the claim is “baseless.” The woman who filed the claim said she believes it is “pretty clear-cut,” but the Office of Congressional Ethics cannot comment on whether the complaint is valid.
Susan Delehanty, of Tupper Lake, said she filed the complaint to OCE Chief Counsel Omar Ashmawy on Dec. 9 last year because the issue “bothered” her and she believes “(Stefanik) should be called out on it and stop doing it.
“I feel like when we see something, we should say something,” Delehanty said.
The complaint is centered around Stefanik’s use of footage from the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment hearings, in which Stefanik questioned Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs George Kent and acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor about President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.
Stefanik uploaded these clips to her YouTube channel, where she posts interviews, campaign advertisements and updates on her work. She then linked to the videos in campaign emails seeking donations. She also uploaded clips to her Twitter personal account, which she uses for campaigning.
The complaint cites a June 2018 letter from the House Ethics Committee to legislators regarding rules prohibiting “the use of footage of House Floor activities and committee proceedings for any partisan political purpose.”
“Exhibit A” in the complaint is an email sent from the Elise for Congress organization on Nov. 13 titled “WATCH: I EXPOSED ADAM SCHIFF,” which links to the YouTube clip “Stefanik Questions Witnesses During First Open Impeachment Hearing” and includes a donation link.
House rules dictate that a preliminary review be conducted with written authorization of two members of the OCE board if there is a “reasonable basis” to believe an allegation. This process is all confidential, but if the OCE refers the case to the House Committee on Ethics the results can be publicly released under “all but one set of circumstances.”
“Elise Stefanik used taxpayer dollars in violation of House ethics rules to raise money,” Cobb wrote in a press release.
“Our official office and campaign abide by House ethics rules,” Stefanik spokeswoman Madison Anderson wrote in an email. “Our office has never been notified about an ethics investigation since Congresswoman Stefanik was sworn into office in 2015.”
How the complaint was made
Stefanik’s campaign has alleged that the writing of the complaint was done by Cobb’s campaign, and not Delehanty.
“The Office of Congressional Ethics receives thousands of partisan complaints each year — this complaint directly from the Cobb campaign — is just one example of that,” Anderson wrote. “Tedra Cobb’s campaign is so desperate that they wrote this baseless, phony complaint themselves.”
Delehanty said the complaint was a “group effort,” with consulting by members of Cobb’s campaign, but she said that it is her complaint, not the campaign’s.
Anderson thought Delehanty’s and the Cobb campaign’s responses were not specific enough.
“If they didn’t help write it, they would say that outright,” she wrote.
Delehanty, the retired head of Citizen Advocates and a current Tupper Arts board member, said she has never filed a complaint like this before.
“This is the first time that I became aware that it was being done and that it was against the rules,” Delehanty said.
She has been following congressional politics for a little while now and has petitioned for Cobb’s campaign. She is not a staff member of the campaign, though.
She said she heard about the possibility of filing a complaint while talking with friends who are Cobb supporters and Cobb campaign staff about Stefanik’s involvement with the impeachment hearing. Delehanty said she did not like what she saw of Stefanik’s questioning and has not liked her campaign’s use of the hashtag #TaxinTedra.
“Ethically, she didn’t take the high road,” Delehanty said of Stefanik. “This didn’t seem appropriate to me, and, turns out, it is against House Ethics rules.”
Delehanty said if she sees more possible ethical violations, she will file more complaints with the OCE.
“This isn’t the least bit surprising given that she took money from Steve Wynn, a man accused of dozens of accusations of sexual assault and harassment,” Cobb wrote. “It is clear Elise Stefanik will do anything to further her political career.”
Wynn is a disgraced casino mogul accused of sexual assault, who donated $8,400 to Stefanik’s 2020 reelection campaign. Stefanik, unlike other Republican recipients of Wynn’s money, has not said she will donate his money instead of using it for a campaign.
Wynn, who has donated to Republican candidates for years, has been compared to Harvey Weinstein, a prominent Democratic donor.
In an email on Monday Anderson brought up a Cobb donor, a lawyer who had overlooked Weinstein’s sexual harassment allegations.
Henry Rodgin Cohen, a prominent Wall Street lawyer, was contracted in 2015 by the The Weinstein Company to look at Weinstein’s personnel file as the company board questioned whether to keep him on the board, following allegations of sexual harassment.
Cohen told the board there were no unresolved complaints or litigation against Weinstein, though in the file there was a sexual harassment allegation.
Cohen donated $2,500 to Cobb’s campaign in November.
“(Cobb) is a hypocrite to the highest degree and should be ashamed of herself,” Anderson wrote.
“I received an unsolicited donation from Rodgin Cohen and was unaware of his background,” Cobb responded in an email. “I am uncomfortable with the contribution and will immediately donate it to charity. While my opponent happily takes contributions from pharmaceutical companies who prey on seniors and sexual predators like Steve Wynn, I won’t. I have and will continue to run with integrity and lead by example.”
(CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said Susan Delehanty retired as head of Adirondack Arc. She was CEO of Citizen Advocates, another nonprofit organization that provides services to people with developmental disabilities in Franklin County, as well as services to other populations in need. The Enterprise regrets the error.)