Aug 25, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Congressman to donor: Quit using me in your ads

Rep. Matt Cartwright speaks in a video praising the law firm Parker Waichman.
Screenshot from a video of Rep. Matt Cartwright praising the law firm Parker Waichman (Source: YouTube)

Rep. Matt Cartwright appeared in television commercials praising a top donor's law firm — an apparent misunderstanding over video shot for the Pennsylvania Democrat's bill about water contamination at Camp Lejeune, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Members of Congress are prohibited from using official resources to promote commercial endeavors.

  • Cartwright's office quickly sent a cease and desist letter demanding the removal of ads for the law firm Parker Waichman featuring the congressman in his D.C. office singing the firm's praises.
  • This week, after Axios first reached out to Cartwright and Parker Waichman, partner Jerry Parker in a letter apologized to Cartwright for an "overreach" and "any trouble this has caused you."
  • The letter says that the firm's "marketing team posted the video to our website and used an excerpt in a television commercial."
  • "In retrospect, we see that this was an overreach: you never authorized our use of your comments for advertising. We took it all down as soon as we realized our error." A pair of pages on Parker Waichman's website featuring the Cartwright videos have since been removed.

Driving the news: In the video clips, Cartwright praises the firm and Jerry Parker for their representation of U.S. servicemen and family members affected by widespread water contamination at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune.

  • Cartwright authored the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, which was signed into law this month and allows servicemen and family members affected by the contamination to sue the federal government for damages.
  • "Folks like Jerry Parker and Parker Waichman, they're at the point now where they really have to roll up their sleeves and take these cases in front of the court and win them," Cartwright said in a video posted on Parker Waichman's website.

Portions of that video also ran in Parker Waichman television ads this month seeking additional plaintiffs in Camp Lejeune litigation.

  • "I'm Congressman Matt Cartwright," he says in the TV commercial. "Jerry Parker introduced me to this whole problem. I owe Jerry Parker a great debt of gratitude."
  • Photos posted to Cartwright's Instagram page indicate his portion of the ad was filmed in his congressional office. In the clips, Cartwright is wearing his official congressional lapel pin.

The intrigue: Parker and his wife have donated the legal maximum to Cartwright's campaign in each of the last four election cycles.

What they're saying: Shortly after the TV ad began running, Cartwright sent Parker a cease-and-desist letter demanding the firm stop using those clips in advertising and promotional materials.

  • "No permission to use my name or likeness in advertisements soliciting clients for your legal practice was ever granted to you by me or my representatives," the congressman wrote, according to a copy of the August 9 letter his office provided to Axios.

A Cartwright spokesperson told Axios the video was filmed as part of an event marking the passage of his Camp Lejeune legislation

  • "[B]ecause there is often video shot at celebratory events, the Congressman did not object to the visit being videoed, but certainly never authorized the recording to be used for commercial purposes. If we had known the video was intended for commercial purposes, we would not have allowed it."

Between the lines: House ethics rules seriously restrict the use of official taxpayer resources to promote commercial ventures.

  • Private, political or commercial communications by members of Congress "should not carry expressions or symbols that might improperly indicate official sponsorship or endorsement," according to the House Ethics Manual.
  • "The prohibition against use of House resources to support unofficial undertakings clearly applies to support of business endeavors," it says.
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