A formal complaint filed last week with the U. S. Senate Select Committee on Ethics asks for an investigation into Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner’s use of unsolicited robocalls to promote a tele-townhall COVID-19 update within 60 days of the election.
Election season limitations on Members of Congress conducting constituent communication are longstanding and well-understood restrictions. However, in March of this year, the Senate Rules Committee waived at least one of the rules Gardner is alleged to have violated in order to permit senators to update people on the COVID-19 pandemic.
The exception permits “providing updated information about the pandemic, and providing information about the federal government’s response.” It is intended to allow the transmission of critical pandemic response information, not for senators to tout their accomplishments to voters.
The complaint filed against Gardner, a Republican, argues that between the pre-selected robocalls to voters and Gardner’s talk of politics and non-COVID issues such as listing his bipartisan work with Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), the tele-townhall violated Internet Services and Technology Resources Usage Rules 6.2 and 6.3.
During the 40-minute call, Gardner spent 10 minutes listing the various federal responses and resources for the pandemic, before taking questions from callers. His answer to the questions, which were presumably selected by his staff, covered a variety of issues well beyond COVID-19, including the Great American Outdoors Act, transportation projects, and wildfire funding.
Gardner isn’t the only senator facing a tough election who has used the COVID communication exception to his benefit.
Arizona Sen. Martha McSally, also a Republican, came under similar scrutiny last week for COVID robocalls that praised her efforts on the issue. As the Daily Beast reported, in the letter Senate Rules Committee Chair Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Ranking Member Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) sent to their colleagues “explaining the change, the adjective ‘limited’ is used four separate times to describe the waiver.”
Denver resident and community activist Dana Miller filed the complaint on Oct. 12. Reached via email for comment, she wrote that she was “frustrated” with Gardner for not meeting with constituents in person.
“I have been time and again frustrated by Senator Cory Gardner’s lack of availability and accountability to his constituents,” wrote Miller in an email. “He has consistently refused to meet with constituents in person and in any sort of public town hall. He continues to call his tele-town halls public events, but as they are pre-screened with a limited number of constituents even aware of their existence, they don’t serve as a substitute for direct contact with Colorado constituents. When I discovered that his last tele-town hall on Sept. 10, 2020 violated Senate rules about restricting certain communications and activities during the 60 day period before a contested election, I decided to file this complaint.”
Gardner’s office did not immediately return an email request for comment. This article will be updated with any response received.
Listen to Gardner’s Sept. 10 tele-townhall here.