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Fight Brews Over Fake News Release Democrats May File Ethics Charge Against Gop Chair

House Democrats are exploring whether to file an ethics complaint against a Republican subcommittee chairman after he admitted issuing a deceptive news release at a hearing last week.

On Thursday, staff members of a House Government Reform subcommittee distributed a news release that purported to show that members of the nonprofit Alliance for Justice received more than $7 million in federal grants. The release was placed on a press table at a hearing, and contained no disclaimer showing it had been produced not by the liberal group but by Republican staff.

Democrats were outraged when they discovered what had happened. On the House floor Friday, Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., accused subcommittee Chairman David McIntosh, R-Ind., of perpetrating a “crime.”

An aide to Slaughter said the congresswoman was considering filing a complaint with the House ethics committee.

McIntosh acknowledged that his staff had used a computer to simulate the alliance’s letterhead and had produced the bogus handout. He sent a letter of apology Friday to Nan Aron, the group’s president.

“While we stand by the grant information, the graphics, unfortunately, appear to simulate the alliance’s letterhead. Certainly it was not intended to create the appearance of an alliance document or mislead the public or the press,” McIntosh wrote. “I and the staff who prepared it apologize and regret that it offended you.”

Aron issued a statement accepting the apology but added, “Congressman McIntosh’s claim that this action was ‘unintended’ is incredible on its face. There can be no doubt that its clear purpose and inevitable effect were to mislead the public and press.”

McIntosh’s subcommittee was holding a hearing on his proposal to put strict limits on lobbying by nonprofit groups that receive federal grants. Aron was appearing in opposition to the legislation.

McIntosh’s proposal would deny grants to any organization that spends more than 5 percent of its nonfederal funds on political activities, broadly defined to include everything from writing congressional representatives to filing friend-of-the-court briefs in litigation. The bill also would require extensive reporting on how a group spent its money.

The fake news release created an opening for Democrats to mount a counterattack against the measure, which is one of the cornerstones of a Republican campaign to deny federal funds to groups that oppose their conservative agenda.

“Nothing could better demonstrate the total lack of merit of the … legislation than the fact that its proponents feel the need to rely on such blatant dishonesty to further their cause,” Aron said. She called on the ethics committee to investigate.