Ethics complaint filed against Reid as GOP, Dems ramp up election spin

WASHINGTON — Republicans on Wednesday filed a Senate ethics complaint against Sen. Harry Reid, charging he crossed the line in using his taxpayer-funded website and Twitter account to launch attacks against the Koch brothers.

Reid, the Senate majority leader from Nevada, for several months has crusaded against Charles and David Koch, industrialists whom he says are trying to “buy America” through major donations to Republican causes. The Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity has so far spent more than $30 million on advertising against Democrats up for election this year.

While intended as a strategy to rally the Democratic base, Reid’s tactics attracted pushback in the form of the complaint by the Republican Party of Louisiana and fresh criticism from the GOP that now aims to brand the Nevadan as an unscrupulous politician and make him a campaign issue unto himself.

“This guy will stop at nothing to lie to the American people,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said Wednesday on “Fox and Friends.”

“There’s little doubt that Harry Reid is abusing his power as majority leader and resorting to desperate and deceitful measures to hold on to his position. And in so doing, he’s showing that he’s not fit to hold the position,” Republican National Committee press secretary Kirsten Kukowski wrote Wednesday in a memo to candidates and allies.

Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson called the GOP ethics complaint “meritless” and a “silly ploy.” The Republicans’ new tactic shows they have a “blind obedience to the shadowy, billionaire Koch brothers,” he said.

“Republicans rushing to defend the billionaire Koch brothers is just further evidence that when the Koch brothers say, `Jump,’ Republicans ask, `How high?’” Jentleson said.

The complaint by Roger Villere, chairman of the Republican Party of Louisiana, charges Reid violated Senate rules that prohibit senators from using official resources “for partisan political campaign purposes.”

The complaint highlights an April 9 posting to Reid’s website entitled “The Facts about the Koch Brothers,” that Villere said consisted of “more than a dozen hyperbolic attacks” on the Kochs.

At the same time, the complaint said Reid’s Twitter account featured a graphic of two men wearing Koch Industries Inc. logos, stating that Republicans senators “might as well wear Koch insignias to denote their sponsorship.”

“Senate rules are clear: Senators and their staffs are prohibited from using official resources for partisan electoral activities,” Villere said in the complaint letter to Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Johnny Isakason, R-Ga., the leaders of the Senate Ethics Committee.

“Harry Reid is so dirty and so unethical that some of these things have to happen,” Priebus said of the GOP ethics complaint. “You have to put a marker down and say, wait a second, you are not going to use a taxpayer website and a taxpayer Twitter account to attack Republicans.”

To combat criticism of the Kochs, Kukowski in her memo outlines how to discredit Reid. The RNC is urging allies to amplify reports that Reid reimbursed his political campaign for more than $16,000 in holiday gifts made by his granddaughter and given to his friends and supporters.

Louisiana is one of the major election battlegrounds this year. Americans for Prosperity has funded several rounds of attack ads against incumbent Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu, including what it said was a multimillion-dollar buy to launch on Wednesday. At the same time, the Senate Majority PAC, a group run by former Reid aides, has paid for attacks tying the Kochs to Rep. Bill Cassidy, Landrieu’s Republican challenger.

“The out-of-state billionaire Koch brothers funded the fight to let flood insurance premiums soar, helping the insurance companies,” says one Louisiana television ad from the Senate Majority PAC, which has already spent $11 million this election cycle, much of it on anti-Koch messages in battleground states.

In part, Republicans are taking this approach out of necessity. While polls show voters sour on President Barack Obama, they still like him.

By contrast, few know Reid. Almost half of Americans didn’t have enough information about Reid to rate him, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll in December. Just 17 percent of Americans had a favorable impression of Reid while 37 percent viewed him unfavorably.

Republicans were more apt to be able to identify Reid than others; just 36 percent of Republicans said they didn’t know enough to say. Those who support the tea party were far more likely to be able to rate him — among tea party-supporting Republicans, 76 percent viewed Reid unfavorably and 20 percent said they didn’t know enough to say.

The move is similar to what Republicans did in 2010 with then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. The RNC sponsored a “Fire Pelosi” bus tour and hung an anti-Pelosi banner on its Washington headquarters. Her persona hovered over all Democrats on ballots, and Republicans won the majority.

The RNC hopes to replicate that in 2014. The RNC’s digital team planned to flood Twitter starting Wednesday with messages with the hashtag (hash)firereid.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at 202-783-1760 or STetreault@stephensmedia.com. Find him on Twitter: @STetreaultDC.