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For Members of Congress, Ryan's VP Nomination Raises a Tweet Dilemma

BY Miranda Neubauer | Thursday, August 16 2012

Various tweets by House members reacting to Rep. Paul Ryan's selection as the Republican vice presidential nominee may have violated Congressional rules, the Sunlight Foundation* reports.

Over the weekend, many Republican House members such as Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) and Mike Turner (R-Ohio) initially congratulated Ryan on his selection, while Democrats such as Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) expressed their opposition, Lucero notes. But soon afterwards many of the House members deleted their tweets. Members of Congress are bound by rules under which official government communication channels can't contain campaign information, a frequent stumbling block as politicians move ever more quickly to join the 21st century.

Sunlight's Kathryn Lucero caught the deletions thanks to the nonprofits's Politwoops tool, which highlights tweets from political accounts that are tweeted and then deleted.

"Anything affiliated with a [political] race should not be official content," Gregory Abbott, a Democratic spokesperson for the House Administration Committee, told Sunlight.

"While political tweets on official accounts are not the worst offense a member can commit, the point of this rule is to separate the official actions of Congress from politics and to prevent public resources from being used for campaign activity," Melanie Sloan, executive director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, wrote in an e-mail to Sunlight. "It is fine for members to express their political views on social media. They just shouldn’t do it on their official accounts.”

A spokesperson for Renee Ellmers, R-N.C, told Sunlight her tweets supporting Paul Ryan were done in the "heat of the moment" because she was "excited seeing one of her friends and colleagues being honored with the selection as nominee for vice president.They were mistakenly sent out on the official account." Since Sunlight contacted Ellmer's office, the Tweets in question have been deleted, but she has kept a retweet of a congratulatory message posted by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, even though the Senate has the same rules, Lucero writes.

Personal Democracy Media's Micah Sifry and Andrew Rasiej are senior advisers to the Sunlight Foundation.