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The political attack website you didn't know you're paying for

September 5, 2012: 5:00 AM ET

The most vocal criticism of recent financial reform is coming from inside the House.

UPDATED 9/5, 4:45 PM

FORTUNE -- These days, the site that holds that most vitriol for Dodd-Frank, the two-year-old Wall Street reform law passed by Congress in the wake of the financial crisis, is paid for and run by Congress.

In fact, much of the website of the House Financial Services committee, which was instrumental in passing Dodd-Frank - albeit under Democratic leadership - appears to be dedicated to just how bad the law is.

The website's homepage directs visitors to a survey that is meant to explain whether and how financial reforms will impact you. But no matter how you answer the 10-question survey, the results are all essentially the same: Dodd-Frank is an unmitigated disaster for you and your family, likely to cause rising prices, the closure of community banks and an explosion in government spending that average Americans, not Wall Street, will have to pay for.

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It makes no mention of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or any other reforms meant to curb lending abuses or Wall Street risk taking.

Also on the website are videos attacking financial reform, a "Dodd-Frank burden tracker" and a report card. Dodd-Frank gets all Fs, except in the category of "More Big Government." There it gets an A.

By comparison, the website of the Senate's Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs is quite congenial. The top item highlights the passage of sanctions against Iran, something both the Democrats and Republicans supported. There is also a picture of U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner from a recent hearing.

The House Financial Services website also has information on recent hearings and legislation, but not on its homepage. The most recent item under the heading of legislation is nearly a year old.

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In addition to the main site, there is also an official House Financial Services committee Facebook page. On it is a picture of someone who looks like Apple's Steve Jobs in front of a garage. The caption reads, "Obama to Small Business Owners 'You didn't build that'" Above the image is, "LIKE or SHARE if you DISAGREE with Obama!" At the bottom there is a Facebook thumbs up, the url facebook.com/GOPFinancialServices, and "1.6K" in a box. It's not clear what that number is referring to. The actual Facebook like counter says 26.

According to House rules, committee websites can't link to campaign websites, include "grassroots lobbying" or circulate or encourage signing petitions. The House Financial Services website does not appear to break any of those rules. But the rules also say that the websites can't contain political information or solicit support for a member's position. The HFS site does seem to break those rules, but so do lots of other committee websites. A spokeswoman for Committee on House Administration says they have reviewed the HFS website and it doesn't appear to break any rules. The spokeswoman said she was not aware of whether that review included the committee's Facebook page, or the Steve Jobs image.

A spokesman for Congressman Spencer Bachus, a Republican, who is the chairman of the committee, declined to comment or make the Representative available. A spokesman for the House Financial Services committee said he believed the site doesn't violate the House's rules, and was in keeping with other committee websites. The website did recently win a silver medal from Congressional Management Foundation, which rates government websites. But the group says their awards are mostly based on functionality, not content.

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But Congressman Brad Sherman, a Democrat, who is a member of both the House Financial Services committee as well as the bi-partisan Franking commission, which makes many of the rules governing what can be said in official House communications, says he thinks some of the things on the financial services website might cross the line. Sherman says in his opinion House rules govern official Facebook pages as well. "The Steve Jobs image has nothing to do with pending legislation and nothing to do with the business of the House Financial Services committee," says Sherman. "It's not the worst thing going on in Washington these days but I think at least that example crosses the line of what is acceptable." Sherman says he plans to discuss the Facebook page with the majority staff and put in a complaint.

Congressional committee websites popped up more than a decade ago. Most have been places to post schedules of future hearings, or clips or transcripts of past ones. And many still are. But the past year or so, a number of House committee websites have become more partisan. Part of the reason is that politicians are using the web more in general. In the House, unlike in the Senate, Republicans and Democrats have separate committee sites, with the party in control of the House, which these days is the Republicans, getting the committee's main web address, and offering a link to the minority party's site.

Observers say the main committee sites appear to have gotten more aggressive since the Republicans took the majority. "My vague sense is that some of these websites are especially partisan because it is an opportunity to be partisan without alienating constituents," says David Lazer, the director of the Program on Networked Governance at the Harvard Kennedy School.

The website of the House's Ways and Means committee recently carried the headline, "Another Disappointing Day, Courtesy of Obama Administration Policies." The House's Armed Services Committee's website has a pop up ad that says to click here to learn how to prevent another round of damaging cuts to our military. The site in part blames Obama.

The House Ways and Means committee Facebook page features an image with a highway splitting. On one side of the highway, a red sign says, "Democrats' Tax Hike Highway: 710,000 Lost Jobs." On the other side is a green sign that reads, "GOP Jobs Drive: 1 Million New Jobs." The House Budget Committee has a link to Facebook on its website, but that link leads you to the personal Facebook page of Paul Ryan, who is that committee's chairman and is the Republican nominee to be the Vice President of the United States in the 2012 election.

But few sites are as one sided or single focused on one issue as the House Financial Services committee. While banks fought Dodd-Frank, since it's passage many top Wall Street executives say there is a lot in the law that makes sense.

But that's not the impression you get from the House Financial Services website. Of the eight slides that fill the main click through window on the homepage, seven are focused on Dodd-Frank, and all are critical. A video says the law has failed, even though roughly half of Dodd-Frank's provisions have yet to be implemented.

In 2010 and 2011, the House Financial Services Committee spent nearly $40,000 on its website. That compares to $8,500 in 2009. Recently, spending on the website has dropped off.

UPDATE: Story was updated to include a comment from a spokeswomen from the Committee on House Administration.

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About This Author
Stephen Gandel
Stephen Gandel

Stephen Gandel has covered Wall Street and investing for over 15 years. He joins Fortune from sister publication TIME, where he was a senior business writer and lead blogger for The Curious Capitalist. He has also held positions at Money and Crain's New York Business. Stephen is a four-time winner of the Henry R. Luce Award. His work has also been recognized by the National Association of Real Estate Editors, the New York State Society of CPA and the Association of Area Business Publications. He is a graduate of Washington University, and lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two children.

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