- The Washington Times - Friday, March 5, 2010

A Republican fundraising invitation circulated last week includes a decorative seal that some say could be a violation of Senate ethics rules.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee’s invitation to an “Armed Services Industry Roundtable” with Sens. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and John Thune of South Dakota included the committee’s seal, a round symbol that includes an eagle clutching an olive branch and arrows.

The NRSC seal bears some similarity to the Great Seal of the United States, which could be a violation of the Senate Select Committee on Ethics’ rules that forbid lawmakers from using the seal.

Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist at Public Citizen, a Washington watchdog group, said the invitation appears to be a violation and that the rule is set up to prevent recipients from mistakenly thinking a document is from an official government agency.

“The use of any symbols that present a close likeness of the Great Seal — the symbol used in this fundraising appeal even includes the olive branch and arrows clutched by the eagle — is illegal for the party committee to use on its own, and made all the more illegal in conjunction with sitting senators,” he said.

The NRSC, which has been using the seal on its stationery for years, is an independent group that isn’t subject to the congressional ethics rules, but the situation is complicated by the fact that two lawmakers are included on the invitation. The Senate ethics panel suggests in its guidelines that lawmakers use a picture of the Capitol dome on invitations instead of a seal.

“They’re certainly using a symbol when it says right there you’re supposed to be using something else,” said Nancy Watzman, who runs the Sunlight Foundation’s Political Party Time Web site, which collects and analyzes political fundraising invitations.

A NRSC spokesman said Friday the GOP campaign organization sees no problem in using the seal.

“The NRSC seal is not the same as the Great Seal and it’s been used publicly and privately for literally decades,” said spokesman Brian Walsh. “This is a complete non-issue.”

A scan of invitations from other committee groups posted to the site, which is not exhaustive, shows that they do not include any kind of round seal.

The fundraising event comes just as the Republican National Committee finds itself under fire for a leaked presentation that depicted President Obama as the Joker character from Batman movies and suggested using fear of the president’s agenda to raise money.

• Jennifer Haberkorn can be reached at jhaberkorn@washingtontimes.com.old.

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