Gene Stilp wants to bring a Pennsylvania law to Washington to prohibit paid congressional staff members from performing campaign duties.
Stilp, the Democratic candidate in the race for the 11th Congressional District, took issue with opponent U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta's absence at a candidate forum Tuesday in Danville. Barletta's staffer -- communications director Shawn Kelly -- appeared with Stilp for the question-and-answer event.
Kelly, as a paid staffer, cannot perform campaign duties during his prescribed working hours, nor can he be paid or reimbursed for any campaign work or expenses by the congressman's office, according to federal law.
He can, according to law, volunteer on his own time and be paid for campaign work.
A spokesman for Barletta, R-Hazleton, disputed Stilp's contention that Kelly should not have attended the event.
Stilp, 62, of Middle Paxton Township, said the law should be changed and he will make it a top priority as part of a reform package if he is elected to Congress.
I don't think it's right that one minute you can be a paid staffer and the next minute be a surrogate debater, Stilp said.
I will make sure there is a solid red line between campaign workers and congressional staffers. Pennsylvania has this; in fact, there are people sitting in jail for having violated this law.
Stilp referred to Bonusgate, which led to the indictments of Democratic and Republican members of the state Legislature and their aides who received illegally $4 million in bonuses and allegedly used taxpayer money to create computer software programs designed to give an upper hand in elections.
Calling it a major flaw in the congressional rules, Stilp said having paid staff to dispatch to campaign events is a loophole that has to be closed.
This benefits incumbents, he said. I'm appalled that a staff member can sit in for a congressman at a campaign event.
Stilp said incumbent elected officials could intimidate staffers and force them to perform campaign duties.
Lance Stange, Barletta's campaign manager, said Stilp is wrong on a number of points.
I don't know whether to chalk this up to inexperience or desperation, but one thing is clear – Mr. Stilp shredded his ‘Clean Campaign Pledge' by leveling these false, negative attacks, Stange said.
Stange said the Danville event started at 8 p.m., well after Mr. Kelly's working hours and clearly on his own time.
He said Kelly volunteered to attend and speak on Barletta's behalf, as the league requested.
No taxpayer funds were used in any way in the preparation for or participation in this event, and Mr. Kelly was not compensated in any way for his volunteer activity, Stange said.
Stange provided a copy of the section of the House Ethics Manual that applies to staffers volunteering in campaigns. It reads:
Once House employees have completed their official duties, they are free to engage in campaign activities on their own time, as volunteers or for pay, as long as they do not do so in congressional offices or facilities, or otherwise use official resources.
Stange said the Danville event was not a debate, as Stilp characterized. He said the letter of invitation from the Danville Area League of Voters clearly identifies the event as the Danville Area League of Voters Candidates Night.
The Federal Election Committee has sent a letter to the Stilp campaign citing its failure to properly file its third quarter campaign finance report in a timely manner. The report, which shows all campaign financial activity from July 1 through Sept. 30, was due no later than Oct. 15.