Advocate staff photo by LESLIE WESTBROOK -- U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, announced his candidacy for U.S. Senate in December.

A conservative group that promotes government accountability asked the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate the unintentional broadcast of U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany’s staffers talking about the congressman’s Republican opponents in the race for the U.S. Senate.

“This isn’t the biggest crime ever committed,” said Matthew G. Whitaker, executive director of the Foundation for Accountability & Civic Trust. “But we’re especially sensitive when congressmen use their official resources for campaign purposes.”

Using congressional offices for campaign purposes is expressly forbidden in the House rules. “As the Ethics Manual recognizes, this is a “serious matter” and the citizens deserve to know whether taxpayer-funded resources have been misused,” the complaint stated in its request for an investigation.

FACT is a Washington, D.C.-based group that has filed several complaints against congressmen, the most recent being against members who used the gun control protest on the House floor last week to raise campaign funds. Whitaker had been an U.S. Attorney in Iowa and a 2014 Republican candidate for U.S. Senate from that state.

Justin Brasell, Boustany’s campaign strategist, responded in an email saying: “This group’s letter is a bogus election year political stunt and nothing more. As soon as the inadvertent conversation was broadcast, the Ethics Committee was notified, and Dr. Boustany took action to ensure his office remains in full compliance with Ethics standards.”

The June 14 conversation was accidently broadcast on Facebook Live Stream. The flub received national coverage.

It is unclear when and where the conversation took place and who exactly was involved. The snippet starts off with talk about State Treasurer John N. Kennedy, another GOP candidate in the race to replace U.S. Sen. David Vitter, who is stepping down at the end of his term.

An unidentified Boustany staffer opined about Kennedy, “You can’t knock Kennedy off message. He’s dogged.”

The other staffer said that verbal mistakes may help Boustany’s chances with fellow Republican Congressman John Fleming, who is also running. “Well, Fleming has made some big ones,” a staffer said.

The conversation went on in that vein for a couple minutes. The posting was swiftly removed from Facebook.

Whitaker said he couldn’t identify the staffers or even if the conversation took place in Boustany’s congressional office in the Longworth Building on Capitol Hill. But that information is precisely what an ethics investigation can find.

Boustany, in a June 17 letter to the House Committee on Ethics, reported the conservation did take place in his office, albeit after hours at 7:25 p.m., and involved his staff.

The conversation took place a few minutes before the Lafayette-based congressman would conduct a telephone town hall to his southwest Louisiana district. Boustany said the parts of the conversation that were not accidentally broadcast included talk about agricultural exports to Cuba and a bill to stop Internal Revenue Service fines for Healthcare Reimbursement Arrangements.

“I regret this conversation was inadvertently broadcast. I have personally spoken to my staff to instruct them conversations about campaigns and elections have no place in our official congressional office,” Boustany wrote.

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