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McConnell’s Chief of Staff Asks Politico to Remove Ad Promotion Video
Posted at 4:53 p.m. on May 16, 2013
A video posted on the Politico website featuring Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s chief of staff has been taken down after the Kentucky Republican’s office objected to its placement on a page designed to solicit advertisers.
The video, posted earlier this week under the “audience” tab of Politico’s advertising page, features Josh Holmes and identifies him with the title: “Chief of Staff, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, KY.” Holmes spends the first half of the video explaining his job, with shots taken inside McConnell’s office, and the second half of the video explaining why he reads the Washington publication. The video ends with the top staffer saying, “I’m Josh Holmes and I’m a Politico.”
Here is a screenshot of the original page on Politico, captured at about 2:50 p.m. Thursday:
Senate ethics rules prohibit senators or Senate staffers from endorsing outside entities in their official congressional capacity.
The Senate Rules Committee doesn’t comment on potential ethics violations. McConnell’s office said Thursday that Politico wasn’t up front about its intention to use the video on a page designed to attract advertisers. After being asked about the video by CQ Roll Call, McConnell’s office asked Politico to remove the video, and it was no longer on the site after 3 p.m. Thursday.
“In no way was this profile intended to be used for advertising purposes and when this came to our attention we immediately asked Politico for it to be taken down, which it was,” McConnell spokesperson Don Stewart said in a statement.
When contacted by CQ Roll Call, Sara Olson, Politico’s vice president of marketing who solicited the endorsement, provided the following email statement: “The video has been removed at Josh’s request. These videos are a series of conversations that we had with our readers.”
There are always shades of gray on whether a specific action is an ethics violation. But the rules for endorsements are more stringent for staffers because they are less likely to speak in a capacity other than their official roles. For example, McConnell theoretically could endorse bourbon as a longtime resident of Kentucky, but not as Kentucky’s senior senator.
CQ Roll Call has in the past touted member endorsements of its products and promoted anonymous staffer endorsements that were drawn from third-party research, according to Valerie Voci, vice president of marketing.
“Senate ethics rules are pretty cut and dry about something like this,” said a Senate aide who has consulted the Ethics Committee on endorsement matters. ”You can’t do an advertisement for a company or its product, as it is considered an endorsement.” The aide added: “While there’s some flexibility on this for the members themselves, there’s no gray area for staff. You’d think a chief would know that.”
Holmes told CQ Roll Call that he didn’t realize the video would be used as an advertisement for the publication, though the request to be filmed was sent by Politico’s vice president for marketing.
This is the email request from Politico, provided by McConnell’s office:
From: Sara Olson
Sent: Monday, May 06, 2013 8:58 AM
To: Holmes, Josh (McConnell)
Subject: POLITICO request
I apologize in advance for the last minute ask, but I’m working on a series of video profiles of POLITICO’s most influential readers around the country — and Mike Allen said you’d be perfect to feature.
Is there any chance you’d be available today before 1p for a quick on camera interview? We’d send the camera crew to you — preferably your office if that’s doable. Ideally we’d love 30 minutes for the interview and some b-roll shots but it can be shorter if necessary!
I’m happy to send you the questions, but really it’s just a profile of you first — and how you use POLITICO second.
The videos will be played at an event this week and posted on our About website. This is not an editorial feature.
Apologize for the short notice. Let me know if you’re interested and available.
Vice President, Marketing
Staffers and members often consult with the Ethics Committee when an extracurricular activity appears questionable. Holmes did not do this because thought it was a staff profile, he said.
In the video, as explained in the original request, Holmes describes his job and then why he reads Politico.
“My name is Josh Holmes and I am chief of staff to Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader here in the Senate. … I like to come to work every day. I like to know that there’s an impact that’s being made and if I can play a small role in making things better for the people of Kentucky, for the people across the country by doing what I do every day, it’s a huge benefit,” Holmes says to the camera in the black-and-white stylized video.
“One of the things I really like about Politico is that they were at the advent of an a la carte journalism style where no matter what you do or what you’re interested in in the field of politics or policy, there’s an outlet for you. If you really like campaigns and elections, ‘Morning Score’ arrives in your inbox at 7 a.m. If you’re a health care policy analyst, you get the ‘Pulse.’ There is just a lot of different aspects of Politico that allow you to do your job and stay attuned and make sure you’re covering as much ground as you can,” he continues. “I’m Josh Holmes and I’m a Politico.”
Staff writer Meredith Shiner was employed by Politico from 2009 to 2011.