WASHINGTON -- Rep. Darrell Issa's Oversight Committee may have violated House ethics rules by streaming a hearing Friday that included commercial advertising.
The committee, holding a field hearing in North Charleston, S.C., on the National Labor Relations Board, apparently did not transport the gear it needed to stream the hearing with government resources.
So it resorted to the commercial UStream site to feed the hearing, and hosted the feed on the official Oversight Committee homepage.
But that comes with ads, which government watchdogs say is prohibited. And Chairman Issa (R-Calif.) knows it.
"Members are prohibited from doing anything that has an implied commercial endorsement," said Melanie Sloan, the head of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
When the Huffington Post clicked to watch the hearing, an ad for Verizon popped before the stream of the official proceedings would begin. As the hearing went on, ads served by Google for various services popped up, including one offering help with government bids and another aid getting Pell grants.
Refreshing the page after a brief recess brought up an ad for United Healthcare. Also, the logo for UStream was carried across the top of the page for the entire hearing.
See the Verizon ad below:
"It's an implied endorsement," Sloan said. And she added that Issa should know better because she once pointed out to him that it was an issue when a web designer touted work done on Issa's website.
"He took care of it," Sloan said.
The committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but apparently decided to make use of the streaming service used by the local county government, perhaps saving money and effort on the part of the federal government.
Sloan said expediency was not an adequate defense. "Maybe they just didn't want to deal with the rules, but that's not an excuse," she said.
Perhaps complicating the issue, at least one of the ads featured a company -- Verizon -- that has a history with the National Labor Relations Board, which ruled against the phone service provider in a noted 2007 case.
In that case, the NLRB alleges that Boeing started a production line in South Carolina as retaliation against unionized workers in Washington State who have gone on strike in the past.
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