Democrats try to put Scott Brown on defensive with new ethics charge

The Massachusetts race for the Senate seat held by Scott Brown is gathering in intensity, with Brown and Democrats supporting challenger Elizabeth Warren trading ethics charges. 

Steven Senne/AP
Democratic candidate for the US Senate Elizabeth Warren faces reporters during a news conference at Liberty Bay Credit Union headquarters in Braintree, Mass., last Wednesday.

In the closely watched Massachusetts race for the US Senate, candidates and their allies traded jabs on real or supposed ethical lapses Wednesday.

Sen. Scott Brown (R), the incumbent, was accused of violating congressional ethics rules by the head of the Bay State's Democratic Party. The alleged offense was a recent one: posting a video for campaign purposes that was shot by a congressional staffer while traveling on taxpayer money. 

The 19-second video won Senator Brown some positive attention because it showed him sinking a basketball shot from half court to cheers from a youth audience. 

Meanwhile, the rival campaign of Elizabeth Warren (D) continued to face questions about whether she improperly conveyed herself as a minority – based on partial native American heritage – during her career as a law professor.

Ms. Warren hasn't fallen visibly in polls since the story about her native American ties surfaced at the end of April, with one recent poll showing the two candidates tied. But the jabs show the gathering intensity of a campaign that's currently among the most hotly contested in the nation.
“Once again, Republican Senator Brown is shamelessly attempting to divert attention from his record on the issues that really matter in this election, like the cost of student loans," her campaign said in a statement sent to the Monitor by e-mail. "Minutes after Scott Brown voted with his Republican party to double interest rates on student loans, he ridiculously attacked Elizabeth Warren with questions that have already been answered."

Her conservative critics, however, say the questions about her background in academia have yet to be answered. Neither the candidate nor news reports in recent days have fleshed out details about how she presented herself, and how she was perceived, when seeking various teaching positions between the late 1970s and early 1990s. 

What has been reported is this: Warren was listed as native American in the Association of American Law Schools directory from the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s. After that, early in her latest teaching position at Harvard Law School, she dropped that reference in the directory listings. A genealogical record has surfaced, suggesting validity in Warren's claim to be part Cherokee (1/32, apparently). And the candidate has said she doesn't recall ever using this element in her background to advance her career.

All this leaves Warren and her defenders citing her academic and teaching credentials as the basis of her success, and critics wondering whether she intentionally sought – or won – any preference due to a flawed application of affirmative action.

The complaint against Brown was made by John Walsh of the Massachusetts Democratic Party in a letter to the Senate Ethics Committee. Senate staffer Marcie Kinzel "acknowledges that she recorded the campaign video while attending an official event with the Senator," the letter said. "She also traveled to and from the event using official funds. Regardless of when she forwarded the video to the campaign, there is no question that she recorded the video of Senator Brown in her official capacity."

Brown's campaign labeled the hoops-video complaint as baseless and a distraction from real issues, adding that those real issues include the affirmative action questions about Warren.

“This complaint has about as much credibility as Elizabeth Warren’s claim to be a Native American," a Brown spokesman e-mailed, calling it a "desperate attempt to distract from Warren’s refusal to come clean."

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