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Brown’s staff performs balancing act

Must follow rules on campaign trail

Marcie Kinzel, communications director for Senator Scott Brown, shot video of Ray Flynn endorsing candidate Brown.

glen johnson/globe staff

Marcie Kinzel, communications director for Senator Scott Brown, shot video of Ray Flynn endorsing candidate Brown.

Senator Scott Brown scored campaign gold when he sunk a half-court shot last week while visiting a Cape Cod community center.

His reelection committee didn’t delay, packaging the feel-good video, posting it to YouTube and alerting reporters with an e-mail.

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Indirectly, the taxpayers made it all possible.

A spokesman for Brown’s campaign initially told the Globe that the video was shot by “a staffer.’’ But Brown’s US Senate communications director, Marcie Kinzel, later acknowledged that she recorded it.

Kinzel also did so as she worked on federal time, staffing the senator at an event he was attending in his governmental capacity. And she was in Massachusetts after flying to and from Washington on a ticket paid for by the government.

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Nonetheless, Kinzel contends it was all legal, since she shot the video on her personal iPhone and forwarded it to the campaign only later when she was on personal time. She also said such maneuvering had been checked by campaign lawyers.

“After reviewing the details, they said that it could,’’ Kinzel said.

Senate ethics rules allow “certain de minimis overlap’’ between government and political activity, such as allowing official and campaign schedulers to coordinate information.

But the campaign’s co-opting of the video illustrates the ethical and legal balancing act that public servants - and their staffs - must perform as they seek reelection.

It highlights how blurry the line between campaign and non-campaign activity can be. And it underscores the unique power of an incumbent to supplement privately financed campaign staff with workers who are on the government dime.

“It certainly is an advantage, but when it is used according to the law and public expectations, it doesn’t confer an unreasonable advantage,’’ said Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, a government watchdog group.

“The question is, are people being conscientious, and are they actually using personal time or vacation time, or are they fudging? It’s highly problematic if they are.’’

Brown is not alone in enjoying such advantages, or undertaking such a juggling act.

During the 2010 Massachusetts gubernatorial race, Governor Deval Patrick, Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Murray, and then-Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill all received campaign help from government staffers who punched in and out of work during the business day in order to work on their campaigns. Massachusetts law allows them do so in as little as half-hour increments.

During the 2010 midterm elections, US Representative Barney Frank shared the same communications director between both his federal staff and campaign committee. The Democrat’s aide carried two cellphones, used two e-mail addresses, and bounced back and forth between responsibilities as events dictated.

Most recently, President Obama visited three general election swing states - and talked about student loans to the type of college students his reelection committee is targeting - while casting the appearances as official events rather than campaign stops.

That allowed him to pass off the cost - including the $180,000 hourly operating cost for Air Force One - to the taxpayers rather than his campaign committee.

But there was an especially thin barrier between Brown’s political and governmental staffs during the past week.

And his use of his government staff at campaign events is one small sign of how he has transformed from a lone Republican in a pickup truck, raging against “the machine’’ of Democrats that confronted him during his January 2010 special election, into one of the most powerful forces in US politics: a congressional member seeking reelection.

In 2010, 84 percent of incumbent senators won reelection, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

On Monday, for example, Brown stopped by the Seaport Hotel in South Boston to deliver a midday speech to The New England Council, a pro-business trade group. He was joined by four government aides: Kinzel; state director Jerry McDermott; scheduler Maria Coakley; and advance man Chris Burgoyne.

Immediately after the speech, Brown drove two miles away, to Sullivan’s restaurant at Castle Island, for a campaign event in which he was endorsed by former Boston Mayor Raymond L. Flynn.

Burgoyne, no longer wearing his suit jacket or tie, worked to adjust the podium and audio. Kinzel pulled out an iPad to shoot video of the speeches.

McDermott, a former Boston city councilor, greeted supporters and police officers having lunch. Coakley, meanwhile, stuck by Brown’s wife, former Boston television reporter Gail Huff.

As with the basketball shot, Kinzel later explained that she recorded the endorsement video with a personal device. She also said that while Burgoyne’s salary is split between the government and Brown’s reelection committee, she, McDermott, and Coakley were on personal time at Sullivan’s.

Rules posted on the Senate Ethics Committee website are explicit in addressing how government and political activity should be handled for payroll purposes.

“Because Senate pay should be commensurate with Senate duties performed, when an employee intends to spend additional time on campaign activities beyond regular working hours and any accrued annual leave, a senator should either reduce the salary of or remove the employee from the Senate payroll, as appropriate,’’ the rules say.

Glen Johnson can be reached at johnson@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.
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