03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

McCain Robocalls Prompt Ethics Complaint

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) broke Senate rules when he recorded a robocall touting his amendment to the health care bill, according to a complaint filed with the Senate Ethics Committee by watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee paid for the call, which targeted the constituents of swing senators in five states and attacked the current health care reform bill for "cutting $500 billion in vital Medicare coverage for our seniors." The call urged constituents to sign a petition encouraging the senators to support McCain's amendment.

In its complaint, CREW cites Senate Rule 38, which prohibits senators from using private donations to support official Senate activities.

"The NRSC is clearly paying for it," CREW director Melanie Sloan told the Huffington Post, "but it is McCain lobbying for his own bill."

It's common for members of Congress to record robocalls supporting reelection efforts, but not so common for a member to to record a call urging grassroots action on his or her own legislation. Shaun Dakin, founder of the National Political Do Not Call Registry, said he had never heard of a robocall quite like McCain's.

"I can't really remember a committee that had used the voice of a sitting representative in order to drive grassroots activism around a specific issue," he told Huff Post.

Dakin also noted that if the NRSC placed robocalls targeting Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas, that would be illegal according to state law.

NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh defended the call and referred to CREW as a "left-wing front group" in a statement.

"Senator McCain recorded this message at the request of the NRSC and all expenditures associated with the calls were paid for by NRSC since this was a political campaign that urged Americans to sign a petition to Congress," Walsh said. "While the close relationship that a left-wing front group like CREW has with the DSCC is not lost on us, the reality is that this complaint has zero merit."

Click here to read CREW's complaint.

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