WASHINGTON – The Treasury Department (search) issued a batch of tax-related press releases Friday that each carried a message saying America has a choice between growing the economy and raising taxes that could hurt the recovery.
Democrats immediately denounced the action as an improper use of government resources to subsidize political propaganda.
While the sentiment is a long held position of the Bush administration, it was the first time the department included this message in dark type at the bottom of some its news releases, said Treasury Department spokesman Rob Nichols.
"America has a choice: It can continue to grow the economy and create new jobs as the president's policies are doing; or it can raise taxes on American families and small businesses, hurting economic recovery and future job creation," the message on the releases said.
The message, on four of five different releases issued by the department, doesn't mention presumptive Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry (search), a critic of President Bush's tax policies, or anyone else by name.
Asked whether the message was referring to Kerry, Nichols said: "No, it is a reference to anyone who suggests that raising taxes is the right thing to do. There have been many who suggest that taxes should be raised. We don't share that view."
Kerry spokesman David Wade said the language appears to be an improper use of official government resources for political purposes.
"Once again, there are questions to be asked about American taxpayers subsidizing political propaganda to distort the debate in our country and to whitewash President Bush's failed economic policies," Wade said.
"Those are questions that should be answered by the government itself, but they certainly don't refer to John Kerry's plan to provide middle-class tax relief and create incentives for American businesses which create good jobs here at home," Wade added.
Nichols said there was nothing improper with including the message on the tax releases. "That is nonsense, baseless and groundless," he said.
Treasury's decision to include the message on the bottom of several "April 15th Tax Day (search) Reminder" releases follows the department's in-house analysis of Kerry's tax proposal last month. The analysis, requested by House Republican Leader Tom DeLay, was posted on the department's Web site March 22.
That ignited criticism from Kerry and other Democrats and prompted the department's inspector general to launch a preliminary inquiry into the matter.
"First the Bush Treasury Department did campaign research on the Kerry tax plan and now they are blatantly putting out Bush campaign statements that masquerade as a news release," said Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y. "This release has nothing to do with April 15 and everything to do with Nov. 2."
Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Debra DeShong said there should be an investigation to determine whether the language represents a violation of the Hatch Act (search), which restricts the political activities of government employees.
"For them to say it's not political, you know, it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, it's not a goose," DeShong said.
Democrats protested in 2001 when the Bush administration printed "Tax Relief for America's Workers" on tax refund checks sent to 92 million people. The checks refunded some $38 billion to taxpayers as part of the $1.35 trillion tax cut passed that year.
At the time, Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe called the wording a "Republican campaign slogan." The Treasury Department said the line informed taxpayers about the purpose of the check, distinguishing it from other federal payments like Social Security and veterans' benefits.