VIRGINIA BEACH – More than a month after Southside Daily published a story about Rep. Scott Taylor’s use of social media accounts, a Virginia Beach minister has asked the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate the congressman’s online presence.
The Rev. James Allen, president of the Interdenominational Ministers Conference, sent a formal letter to Chief Counsel Omar Ashmawy – along with accompanying screenshots of the unofficial and official social media pages used by Taylor – urging the office to look into whether house ethics rules were broken.
Allen shared the letter with Southside Daily, which said that Taylor, on multiple occasions in recent months, has broken rules that prohibit using campaign resources for official purposes and the opposite.
“Representative Taylor has repeatedly used his campaign social media accounts for official purposes and has created the false impression that the campaign may serve as a gateway to the official office,” Allen wrote to Ashmawy.
Allen said that because Taylor often uses his unofficial Facebook and Twitter accounts for official business – including broadcasting town halls, promoting official house events and posting official contact information on unofficial pages – he has broken house rules and continued to do so after he was sworn into office on Jan. 3.
According to the house ethics code, all campaign resources – including funds, the press secretary, responses to questionnaires and legislative issues, websites and contact information – are considered unofficial.
“Rule 23 of the House Code of Official Conduct requires that members must ‘at all times behave in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House,'” Allen wrote. “Representative Taylor has evaded these ethical obligations by misusing taxpayer money and ignoring simple rules designed to ensure that members do not mix their official work with campaign activity.”
In the letter, Allen stated that on Jan. 13 and again on Jan. 31, Taylor violated a house ethics rule that prohibits broadcasting official house business by posting videos of speeches he gave on the house floor. Allen provided screenshots of both posts which have since been deleted by Taylor.
Taylor did not start posting regularly on his official Facebook page – which has just over 400 likes compared to the unofficial page’s 55,000 likes – until early March, according to Allen’s letter.
Scott Weldon, who serves as Taylor’s official communications director, regularly posts on both pages, which Allen said violates another house rule, citing a specific post made by Weldon on March 7 that addressed “individuals who disrupt” the unofficial Facebook page. The post was made one day after Southside Daily’s story was published.
Brendan Fischer, director of federal and FEC reform at the Campaign Legal Center, said that while Weldon does seem to post on both unofficial and official pages, it would be hard to determine if that activity was breaking any rules.
“Presumably, a political director is working for the campaign and working on campaign time, updating the campaign Facebook page on campaign time, not necessarily from congressional office or while working on the taxpayer dime,” Fischer said. “I don’t know that I would have enough information to say that that’s the case.”
While Fischer says Weldon’s use of unofficial and official social media is in need of review in accordance with ethics rules, he also says that Allen’s complaint appears to properly illustrate how Taylor and his staff made some mistakes.
“The analysis looks right in terms of what the house ethics committee has advised for unofficial social media accounts,” Fischer said. “Part of this is probably rookie mistakes and transitioning into congress. But these ethics rules matter. We’ve certainly seen from the White House down for the past few months – we have seen a disregard for the ethics rules.”
Allen said Taylor should be held accountable to the rules like anyone else, but that’s only part of why he requested the office to investigate his social media pages.
During the Kempsville Town Hall on Feb. 20, which was live streamed on the unofficial Facebook page, Allen said Taylor told his constituents that he monitors the page to gauge how they feel about policies. When it was shown that Taylor was blocking certain constituents, Allen said it became obvious that he picks and chooses who he listens to.
“He directs phone calls to his D.C. office which is OK, but he has a reputation for not returning those phone calls,” Allen said in an interview. “He will be reminded that we elected him and whether we voted for him or not, he represents us all. Just because we disagree doesn’t mean we don’t have valid concerns.”
If the office finds cause for an investigation, they must notify Taylor during the preliminary review. After a second-phase review, the office can either recommend or dismiss the investigation.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with information from Fischer after Southside Daily learned that a previous source had acted as counsel for Democratic political organizations.