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Tipsheet

Squad Member Jamaal Bowman's Obsession With TikTok Comes Back to Bite Him With Ethics Complaint

AP Photo/Anjum Naveed

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) is rather fond of TikTok, so much so that he has two separate accounts. As highlighted by the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT) in a letter dated April 10 from Kendra Arnold, their executive director, to the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), the squad member has posted political content from his official, verified account in addition to his campaign account, The letter also highlighted how "along with the federal government, the House of Representatives banned the TikTok app from all official devices."

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The letter, which asks that the OCE "immediately investigate whetherRepresentative Jamaal Bowman has used social media accounts in violation of House rules and abused official resources for political purposes," is armed with examples.

In one instance, "Bowman recorded a political video from inside the U.S. Capitol building and posted it on his political account[,]" with the video in question showing Rep. Bowman telling viewers about the State of the Union. He emphasizes that viewers should contact their representatives if they don't like what they hear, telling viewers to "express your concern, frustration, and your ideas."

Another example from last year involved a video posted both to Bowman's official and campaign account calling for Justice Clarence Thomas to be impeached. The videos were posted last August and last October, respectively. 

On December 8 of last year, Bowman also posted videos from the same location--his congressional office--to both his official and campaign accounts. 

The letter from FACT highlights how, with original emphasis, they believe the Squad member has violated ethics rules. Footnotes also make reference to 31 U.S.C. sec. 1301(a) as the relevant law:

Law: Federal law and House ethics rules require strict separation between campaign and official acts: (1) a Member is prohibited from using official resources for campaign purposes and (2) a Member is prohibited from using campaign funds for official purposes.

Federal law states that “appropriations shall be applied only to the objects for which the appropriations were made except as otherwise provided by law.” The ethics rules enforce this law by also prohibiting Members from using any official resource for campaign or political purposes. An “official resource” is anything funded by taxpayers, examples include: all government buildings and House offices, a Member’s official website and social media accounts, and photographs and video from the House or Senate floor. Conversely, a Member is prohibited from using campaign funds for official purposes.

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There's likewise specific parts of the "House Ethics Manual" mentioned, lending credence to the complaint from FACT: 

Government Buildings. Official buildings are those that are paid for with taxpayer funds and include any federal building, Congressional office space, and the Capitol. Members are prohibited from engaging in any political activity within official buildings, such as doing campaign work, holding political meetings, soliciting campaign funds, and taking photos or video for campaign or political purposes.

House Floor Video. Members are prohibited from using photographs and video of House floor proceedings for campaign or political purposes. This includes any photograph or video footage of floor proceedings even it was reposted from a third-party source, i.e. another website or news organization. As the Ethics Committee has stated, “Members may not re-use an image of a floor proceeding published by a third-party, if the Member could not use that image in the first instance.”

Websites and Social Media Accounts. A Member is prohibited from using their official social media and websites for political purposes. Moreover, federal law and House ethics rules require a strict separation between campaign and official social media accounts. A Member’s official social media accounts may not include any of the following: personal, political, or campaign information; grassroots lobbying or soliciting support for a Member’s position; or a link to campaign or political related accounts or sites. A Member’s campaign social media accounts may not include a link to the Member’s official House website or any official content. 

The laws at issue in this case protect taxpayer-funded resources from abuse and theft and strict enforcement addresses the public’s concerns that incumbents wrongfully use government funds to run for re-election.

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The letter further makes clear that FACT believes "Rep. Bowman Abused Official Resources for Political Purposes," with original emphasis, and goes on to offer that the "law is clear and the posts above speak for themselves."

Towards the letter's closing, Arnold reminds that "we urge the Board to immediately investigate whether Representative Bowman used official resources for campaign purposes in violation of the House ethics rules."

"The laws and ethics rules prohibiting Members from using official resources for political purposes are clear and longstanding. Not only do these ethics rules protect taxpayer funds, but they also protect the integrity of the government and maintain citizens' trust. Anytime a Member does not comply with these laws it is troubling and should concern citizens. The OCE must move swiftly to investigate and enforce these bright-line standards and apply the requisite penalty," Arnold also said in a statement. 

In light of the debate on whether or not to ban TikTok, with a ban having bipartisan support, Rep. Bowman claimed at a rally last month that Republicans wanted to ban the app beholden to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) because they "ain't got no swag." Bowman also claimed during Sunday show appearances that the desire to ban the app was out of "racism" and "xenophobia."

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The White House supports bipartisan legislation known as the RESTRICT Act, so we've been told, with the bill being used in a way to potentially ban the app. Such support comes into question though, given that, as Spencer covered earlier on Monday, the White House is looking to depend on social media influencers, including from TikTok, to boost President Joe Biden's image. Such timing could very well help coincide with whenever Biden is announcing his reelection campaign. 

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