House Democrats rack up ethics complaints over TikTok use

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House Democrats rack up ethics complaints over TikTok use

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House Democrats have increasingly faced ethics complaints in connection to their usage of TikTok, which President Joe Biden banned from government devices late last year over national and privacy security concerns.

Congress is weighing various TikTok ban proposals on the heels of Biden signing a $1.7 trillion spending bill in December 2022 that prohibited the use or download of the social media app on devices issued by the government. Four Democrats have recently been hit with Office of Congressional Ethics complaints from a right-leaning watchdog group, which is demanding investigations into whether the lawmakers have unlawfully used TikTok for campaign-related matters.

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“First, the violations themselves are significant because these members are using official government accounts and buildings for campaign purposes,” Kendra Arnold, executive director of the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, which filed the documents, told the Washington Examiner. “This is prohibited because these resources are paid for and provided by taxpayers, and they simply cannot be used to help a member’s campaign.

The House rules “protect the integrity of the government,” and the repeated alleged violations speak “to a potentially broader trend of ignoring fundamental and easy-to-understand ethics rules,” she added.

TikTok has long been viewed as high risk by national security experts over its ties to China, particularly because its parent company, ByteDance, is headquartered in Beijing. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is behind legislation that would ban TikTok outright, while Sens. Mark Warner (D-VA) and John Thune (R-SD) released a bill in March that would grant the Commerce Department additional powers to determine if security risks arise from foreign business deals.

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, an interagency housed under the Department of State, informed TikTok that it plans to issue a ban if its Chinese owners do not sell their stake in the company, according to multiple reports in March. Still, Biden aims to enlist an army of TikTok influencers to boost his expected 2024 presidential bid, according to Axios.

Between March 30 and April 10, FACT has filed complaints against Reps. Jeff Jackson (D-NC), Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Wiley Nickel (D-NC), and Ilhan Omar (D-MN). It is the contention of the watchdog that these lawmakers are skirting House rules by using TikTok for “political purposes.” Members of Congress are required to separate official acts from those related to their campaigns, FACT noted in the complaints, citing guidelines in the House Ethics Manual.

Jackson’s TikTok account links to his campaign website, which conflicts with his posting of content about government duties, FACT wrote in its Monday complaint. The congressman, who has posted on TikTok over a dozen times in 2023, has used House floor images in at least six videos, according to the group.

Bowman has used two separate campaign and political accounts to post similar content, including a December 2022 video about the Biden administration agreeing with Russia to send foreign arms dealer prisoner Viktor Bout overseas in exchange for Russia releasing WNBA player Brittney Griner, FACT said. He also posted videos calling for the impeachment of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas from August to October 2022, according to records.

“Although Rep. Bowman has two distinct TikTok accounts, he has posted political content on his official account and content using official resources on his political account. Both are violations of the ethics rules,” the watchdog wrote.

Last Tuesday, FACT alleged that Nickel is violating House rules by linking to his campaign website in his TikTok bio. The congressman has also posted political advertisements and footage at campaign events, the complaint said.

Meanwhile, Omar appears to be skirting the rules by posting about her attendance at campaign events and urging viewers to boost Democratic candidates, FACT alleged in a March 30 complaint. Like Bowman, the congresswoman has pushed back against the idea of a TikTok ban.

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“In the present case, both Rep. Omar’s use of her TikTok account and the content posted on that account appear to be clear violations,” the complaint added.

Representatives for Jackson, Bowman, Nickel, and Omar did not reply to requests for comment.

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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