PAYING FOR THE NATIONAL COUNCIL FOR A NEW AMERICA…. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) wants to help lead a “rebranding” effort for his party. Fine. He wants to hold outside-the-Beltway events inside the Beltway. No problem. He wants to argue that his National Council for a New America is and isn’t launching a “listening tour.” Whatever.

It’s more problematic, though, when Cantor asks taxpayers to foot the bill for the whole endeavor.

As Roll Call reported on Monday, Cantor staff and GOP ethics attorney Jan Baran have walked a very fine line to comply with House rules in funding, publicizing and staffing the new organization.

But we think that the whole endeavor ought to be paid for out of political contributions.

The NCNA’s original launch letter carefully — though disingenuously — declared “this is not a Republican-only forum.”

Leading Republicans are hosting events to talk about Republican ideas in the hopes of Republican renewal. Calling this “bipartisan” and worthy of taxpayer investment is foolish, even for Cantor.

To be fair, the first NCNA event was paid for with Cantor’s campaign funds. The problem is that the NCNA is staffed by Cantor’s aides, who are paid by taxpayers. In this sense, we’re paying Republican staffers to work on the Republican Party’s rebranding efforts, as compared to those funds coming from the RNC, political action committees, or the party’s campaign committees.

Eric Kleefeld spoke to Meredith McGehee, policy director for the Campaign Legal Center, who said Cantor’s initiative is going by the letter of the law, but not the spirit of the law, calling Cantor’s rationale “a pretty tortured reading of the rules.”

The University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato added:

I’d be willing to bet that the current funding arrangement is legal, because Jan Baran is one of the most skilled and careful campaign and ethics attorneys in America. But plenty of things that are legal are wrong. This is one of them. Taxpayer money should not be used to support what is clearly a partisan effort. […]

By the way, I had wondered why Cantor and others went to such pains to claim this new effort was bipartisan, when no one with half a brain would ever buy that. Now we know why.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.