So went the headline on a news release sent to newspapers, radio and television stations in Rep. Clay Shaw's Fort Lauderdale district accusing the freshman Republican and his wife of enjoying a two-week jaunt to the Paris Air Show, courtesy of the U.S. Treasury.
"Taxpayers back home in his Florida district might ask how a junket to Paris squares with budget-cutting and federal belt-tightening," the release read. "A look at Air Force cost records suggests that the only thing Rep. Shaw knows about belt-tightening is what his stewardess tells him."
The masthead on the release read "Congressional News Service," and listed a Washington telephone number. In tiny print at the bottom of the page was the notation: Paid for by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
But there was one problem: the Shaws didn't take the Paris trip. In a letter to Rep. Tony Coelho (D-Calif.), DCCC chairman, Shaw protested the "lies, dirty tricks or smear techniques" in the release, and demanded an apology.
Coelho acknowledges the "error" in the case of Shaw, but says the release, which was sent to the districts of other GOP congressmen who did take the trip, "gave our operation credibility. The Republicans were furious. It's part of the political game."
The political game in question is the 1982 battle, already under way, for control of the House of Representatives, the last Democratic foothold since the Senate and White House went Republican.
The Congressional News Service, operated out of the committee, which raises money for House Democratic races, is an effort begun last May to soften up GOP incumbents, especially freshmen and moderate Northeastern and Midwestern Republicans whose districts could be severely affected by Reagan's budget cuts.
Coelho says he's delighted with the operation so far. "Our goal was to get some negative press," he said. "The other thing was to get under their skin. The Republicans have done this for five years and all we did was take a chapter out of their book. But they never had it done to them before, so they're screaming."
A similar operation, begun by the National Republican Congressional Committee in 1975, targeted Democratic incumbents with press releases headed "News from the Other Side." They obviously did something right. That year, there were 144 Republicans and 291 Democrats; when the Congress was organized this year there were 192 Republicans and 243 Democrats.
But the Republicans no longer send out releases to local media directly from the committee here, preferring to route information through local committees. Republicans are better organized on the district level and local media are more likely to use releases issued close to home, they contend.
The Congressional News Service is an early round and just a small part of the DCCC's 1982 effort. It will also include targeting 80 close, marginal districts, which have both Republican and Democratic incumbents, with $25,000 funding packages and logistical help for each, Coelho said.
The Republicans have a big lead over the Democrats in campaign techniques such as direct mail, candidate recruitment and training, and voter identification, and will probably outspend the Democrats next year by more than the 6-to-1 advantage they enjoyed last year.
But Coelho is not discouraged. He contends that rather than losing control of the House, as Republicans hope, Democrats will pick up 12 to 15 seats.
While Coelho said his weekly releases are getting under Republicans' skin, in many instances they seem to merely tickle their funny bones, because of errors in the releases. Rep. Stanford E. Parris (R.-Va.), for example, chuckled heartily when a reporter called to ask him about the release entitled "Parris May be Eligible for 'Dirty Dozen.' " "They thought they had a real juicy scandal," he said. "But it was simply not true." The July 30 release accused Parris of sponsoring a bill to weaken the Clean Air Act. In fact, Parris had earlier stood up on the floor of the House to explain that his name had been erroneously attached to the bill as a result of a clerical error. His name had been removed.
Parris said no media in his district used the material. "This kind of phony news service is beyond the pale," he said. "Legitimate news people are offended by that sort of thing. You need a magnifying glass to see where it really came from," he added, referring to the small type identifying the Democratic sponsor.
Rep. Lynn M. Martin (R-Ill.), one of four women in the freshman class, was the target of a July 6 release that read, "When Congressman Lynn Martin, R-Ill., cast his vote to support the GOP budget plan, he obviously suffered from a severe case of amnesia . . . . "
"We thought it was funny because they messed up so badly," said Martin aide Christopher J. Bowman. "We got one call from a Rockford paper, but no one used it."
In the case of New Jersey Republican Christopher H. Smith, the DCCC had to mail out two retractions after an erroneous release because the first retraction repeated the error. The Aug. 17 release headlined "Rep. Smith Votes Against Buying American Products," had Smith, whose district includes many General Motors workers, voting against an amendment limiting the purchase of foreign-made vehicles by the Pentagon.
In fact, Smith had voted for the amendment. The DCCC acknowledged it had confused his vote with that of Rep. Virginia Smith (R-Neb.), who did oppose the measure.
Although one radio station in his district used the original release, Smith was able to make political hay out of the incident by sending out a counter-release entitled "Dem. Campaign Comm. Admits Distortion of Smith Voting Record." Two papers, the Newark Star-Ledger and the Trentonian, carried stories on the Democratic mixup.
Coelho said, "We're going to make mistakes. The Republicans have 60 to 90 staffers. We have 25. They have computers which can tell you who Joe Schmo's wife's aunt is. We're not as sophisticated, but our record is pretty good. We're striking some targets."
Rep. Guy Vander Jagt, National Republican Congressional Committee chairman, reportedly approached Coelho offering a truce on negative releases, but Coelho refused, pointing out that the Republicans don't use the same technique anymore. Republican Whip Trent Lott, a target of the Paris Air Show release, reportedly complained to House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr.
The Republican committee organized a seminar attended by 160 Republican House staffers to advise on how to deal with the negative publicity. Forms labeled "I've Been Hit" were distributed so targeted members could inform the committee and coordinate responses.
The consultant who originally designed the GOP's "News from the Other Side" warned them not to overreact, citing a Democrat who had taken out $14,000 worth of ads to counter a $12 release.
DCCC executive director Martin D. Franks said the releases "are done in what I hope is a puckish tone to counteract the laudatory releases coming out of the members' offices."
But puckish can turn personal, as Rep. John LeBoutillier (R-N.Y.) learned when media in his district received the release that began, "The youngest member of Congress seems to be having a hard time learning the traditions of respect and courtesy due all congressmen." The release quoted two senior Republican congressmen who criticized LeBoutillier on the House floor in an "embarrassing rebuff" after LeBoutillier had publicly called O'Neill "big, fat and out of control."
Another release dealt harshly with Rhode Island freshman Claudine Schneider's parliamentary confusion during the budget reconciliation vote when she was unable to explain a measure involving federal retiree benefits. Schnieder's "performance is still earning ridicule," the release asserted adding that if her constituents read the Congressional Record, "they would get a ring-side view of government waste and incompetence."
"It was extremely nasty," said Schneider aide Todd C. Nichols, "especially since she was one of only two Republicans who voted with the Democrats on the budget." He added, however, that no media outlets used the release.
A June 22 release sent to the districts of Rep. Robert S. Walker (R-Pa.) and about 55 other Republicans criticized them for voting against a resolution supporting an international code for marketing baby formula in the Third World.
"Politicians love to defend 'motherhood' and have their pictures taken with babies," the release began. "But his vote against protecting the innocent lives of young children won't square with his campaign rhetoric. It certainly will not square with kissing babies."
Walker, who was also targeted for taking the Paris trip, said both releases ran in at least one paper in his district. "But I don't detect any real damage," he said. "I realize the Republicans did something similar to this . . . but I don't think it contributes to the political dialogue of the country."
But Coelho and his fellow Democrats have no intention of backing down. "It's a political game I enjoy playing," he said. "It's fun. I'm having a ball!"