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Mooney accused of more ethics violations for new TV ad

CHARLESTON — A new ad from 2nd District Congressman Alex Mooney attacking 1st District Congressman David McKinley may have violated rules of the U.S. House of Representatives as well as ethics rules.

Mooney already is under investigation by the House Ethics Committee for violations of House rules and campaign finance laws for alleged misuse of political donations for personal use.

The Mooney campaign started airing a new television ad across the new 2nd Congressional District last week, where both Mooney and McKinley are running against each other in the May Republican primary. West Virginia lawmakers combined parts of the 1st and 2nd districts during an October redistricting special session.

The ad, titled “David McKinley Betrayed West Virginia,” promotes Mooney’s endorsement by former president Donald Trump.

“… Alex Mooney stands with West Virginia,” an announcer said. “Mooney worked with president Trump to defend our jobs, border, and values. The only Trump-endorsed conservative in this race.”

The Mooney ad attacks McKinley for voting for a bipartisan independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol Building. The independent commission bill failed in the U.S. Senate, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., created a House select committee made up of mostly Democratic members and two Republicans to investigate the attack.

Mooney also criticized McKinley’s vote for the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework (BIF). The bill, which includes between $6 billion and $8 billion of hard infrastructure funding for West Virginia, passed the House in November in a 228-206 vote, with 13 Republicans — including McKinley — voting for the bill.

“David McKinley joined Nancy Pelosi voting for the Jan. 6 anti-Trump witch hunt to attack our president and our values,” the announcer claimed. “Then, McKinley backed Biden for a trillion-dollar spending spree that’s creating record inflation. David McKinley sold us out.”

There is no correlation between the infrastructure bill and inflation, economists agree.

The ad then includes footage of McKinley asking questions during a House Committee meeting, as well as committee footage of Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.; and footage of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., on the House floor.

According to the rules of the U.S. House of Representatives, using footage of House floor sessions and committee meetings for political purposes is strictly prohibited. Use of floor or committee footage for political purposes is also prohibited by House ethics rules.

“Broadcast coverage and recordings of House floor proceedings may not be used for any political purpose …” according to the House Ethics Manual. “In addition … radio and television tapes and film of any coverage of House committee proceedings may not be used, or made available for use, as partisan political campaign material to promote or oppose the candidacy of any person for public office.”

Mark Harris, a consultant for the Mooney campaign, confirmed Monday that a version of the ad went to TV stations with the footage in question.

“On our spot, the media consultant did accidentally include some footage,” Harris said. “We have addressed that issue and a new version is shipping to stations as we speak that replaces those images.”

Harris said this was the first time he had encountered the issues since it is rare for two current members of Congress to challenge each other in a political primary for a new district.

“We looked into this issue … which honestly is not one in my years of doing this I have run into before, likely because it’s kind of unique to member vs. member races like this one that are obviously not common,” Harris said by email.

Kevin Stephens, campaign manager for McKinley, said they intended to reach out to the House Ethics Committee about the use of the committee and floor footage.

“The ad is yet another example of Alex Mooney’s blatant disregard for House rules,” Stephens said. “His pattern of unethical behavior is the mark of an out-of-touch career politician and a reflection of the Washington swamp, not the values of West Virginians.”

Tom Rust, the staff director and chief counsel for the House Ethics Committee, said the committee would not provide comment on whether any complaint had been filed against Mooney for the campaign ad.

The House’s Office of Congressional Ethics recommended further investigation of Mooney by the House Ethics Committee after OCE investigators found over the summer that Mooney used campaign donations for personal purchases, trips outside his district, food, his personal car, and more. The OCE accused Mooney of spending more than $40,000 improperly since 2017 while paying back the campaign more than $12,000 once the allegations came to light.

The McKinley campaign released a TV ad at the end of last year attacking Mooney for the alleged campaign finance violations and ethics probe. The ad highlighted a news report by CQ Roll Call that found that Mooney spent $1,900 for day-to-day meals at Chick-fil-a and $6,100 for a family trip to a California theme park that Mooney listed as political fundraising and dinner with a contributor.

The Mooney campaign, through a Pittsburgh law firm, prepared a cease-and-desist letter complaining that the McKinley ad provides no sourcing for the accusation that Mooney used campaign donations to fund his California theme park trip. They also accused the McKinley campaign of falsely claiming that Mooney is under federal investigation. The ad itself does claim that Mooney is “now under federal investigation.”

According to the most recent campaign finance reports with the Federal Election Commission, Mooney has more than $2.5 million in cash on hand going into the West Virginia primary on May 10. The McKinley campaign has more than $628,000 in cash on hand.

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