GOP Senator Quietly Removes Blog Posts That May Have Violated Ethics Rules

Senators and staff are banned from using Senate Internet for “partisan political purposes.”
Bloomberg via Getty Images

WASHINGTON -- Blog posts on Sen. Ron Johnson's (R-Wis.) official Senate website, including one that a watchdog group complains violated ethics rules, have mysteriously been taken down.

The American Democracy Legal Fund, a Democratic watchdog group, filed a complaint on Monday with the Senate Ethics Committee, alleging that Johnson violated the Senate Ethics Manual’s Internet policy, which says senators and staff members cannot use Senate Internet “for personal, promotional, commercial, or partisan political purposes.” The group, founded by veteran political operative Brad Woodhouse, calls for an investigation.

One of three blog posts that have disappeared recently was Johnson’s response to a Huffington Post story about him arguing that “The Lego Movie” is part of an “insidious” anti-capitalism propaganda campaign. The link to his post now leads to an error page.

Johnson's post calls out HuffPost’s Ryan Grim, or “some liberal writer at The Huffington Post,” saying he “can’t seem to figure out why I or anyone else would say this about ‘The Lego Movie,’ and he insinuates some kind of conspiracy.” Later, Johnson writes: “The strange thing isn’t that a kids’ movie was anti-business, it is that someone claiming to be a journalist never encountered the idea before.”

The American Democracy Legal Fund’s complaint addresses a different blog post that has since been removed, arguing that “Senator Johnson blatantly used his Senate website to attack a political opponent” when his staff responded to a fact-check article by PolitiFact Wisconsin.

PolitiFact in June dug into a claim made by former Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold (D) that Johnson is “opposed to all government-assisted student loans.” The organization rated Feingold’s statement as “mostly true,” citing numerous interviews and news reports in which Johnson takes a firm stance against the role of the federal government in student loan programs.

The complaint alleges that much of Johnson's blog post responding to the article was directly aimed at Feingold. Feingold is running to become Johnson’s Democratic opponent in 2016, hoping to reclaim a seat that Johnson wrested from Feingold in 2010.

“Had Senator Feingold said that Senator Johnson has consistently pointed out that Washington policy on college assistance has serious negative unintended consequences, then he would have been right,” reads the deleted post.

The post also attacks PolitiFact, saying that the organization “seems to have a hard time being honest about what words mean.” It tries to tie PolitiFact to Feingold, concluding that it "apparently sees the world in exactly the way a left-wing Democrat who spent 18 years in Washington would.”

The third post that has been removed also took aim at a PolitiFact report, this one on Johnson claiming that Feingold was “the deciding vote” when the Senate approved the Affordable Care Act in 2010. PolitiFact deemed Johnson's assertion “mostly false.” Johnson’s post mocked PolitiFact’s fact-checking and rating system by giving his own “ruling” on the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, which runs PolitiFact Wisconsin.

An archived version of Johnson’s blog shows that the posts were removed sometime within the last month.

Neither Johnson’s office nor the Senate Ethics Committee responded to requests for comment.

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