Despite the headlines, the ADLF does not yet appear to be making waves in ethics circles. Staffers at top watchdog groups and even some of the organizations that have received complaints from the ADLF said that they had never heard of the group.
Though the ADLF appears to be the only group currently focused solely on filing ethics complaints against members and candidates of a single party in races across the country, a number of other groups are using similar tactics.
CREW, which identifies itself as a nonpartisan organization, filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics this week, asking the group to investigate whether Rep. Paul Ryan, who is not in a competitive race this year but is a potential 2016 presidential candidate, received special treatment from Amazon in selling his new book.
State parties have also gotten in on the act. Within the last month and a half, state parties have filed complaints against Republican Rep. Cory Gardner of Colorado; Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, and her Republican opponent, Cassidy; Democratic Rep. Mike Honda of California; and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Democratic challenger, Alison Lundergan Grimes. All are locked in tight races heading into November.
Additionally, the North Carolina Republican Party filed a complaint against Sen. Kay Hagan, one of the GOP's top targets this year, on Monday—just four weeks before Election Day. The state Democratic Party responded by filing a complaint of its own against Hagan's opponent, Tillis, the very next day.
State GOP spokesman William Allison defended the timing of the Hagan complaint in an interview, noting that the story upon which the allegations were based had been published just a week and a half earlier. "If the story is public, everyone knows that this happened, then I think that we have the responsibility to move in a timely fashion, which we have," Allison said.
All of those cases have received significant local coverage and are likely to play large roles in the final weeks of campaign advertising and debates. In some cases, the complaints have even received national coverage.
"The goal is to get the story written, pure and simple. It's often just to get the headline that suggests a candidate is now 'under investigation,'" said Elliot Berke, an attorney who handles ethics and campaign finance cases. But, he warned: "Such headlines are often misleading and lack context, and transparency without context is very dangerous and counterproductive."
Take this headline the North Carolina Republican Party used in a press release announcing its ethics complaint against Hagan: "Senate Ethics Committee Begins Formal Investigation of Kay Hagan's 'Stimulus' Payday."
Technically, the state party is correct. For many of these investigative bodies like the Federal Election Commission, the Senate Ethics Committee, and the Office of Congressional Ethics, the mere act of filing an ethics complaint against a candidate or member of Congress automatically triggers an investigation or at least a review of the allegation. That step could lead to weeks of interviews and potential ramifications for the candidate, or it could start and end with a staffer reading a complaint and throwing it in the trash. Whether the committee will pursue the complaint or believes that there are any merits to it—as the party's headline implies—is not clear. The Senate Ethics Committee does not comment on complaints or ongoing investigations.