Highlights of the

House Ethics Rules

 

 

 

 

This publication has been prepared as a convenience for

Members, officers, and employees of the House of Representatives

 

For more information, and for advice on specific factual situations,

contact the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct’s

Office of Advice and Education at (202) 225-7103

 

Detailed information is also available on the Committee’s

website at www.house.gov/ethics

 

 

Revised January 2007


 

Call or Write the Committee Before Acting:

 

Committee on Standards of Official Conduct

Suite HT-2, The Capitol

Washington, DC 20515

Phone:  (202) 225-7103

Fax:  (202) 225-7392

www.house.gov/ethics

 

 

All communications are confidential

 

Law states that no one is placed at risk by seeking
 Committee advice about future conduct

 

Good faith reliance on written Committee opinions
protects you from sanctions under House rules

 

Gifts

Attendance at Events

Privately Sponsored Travel – Through February 2007

Campaign Activities

Constituent Casework

Official or Privately-Sponsored Events

Involvement with Outside Entities

The Honoraria Ban

Interns, Fellows, and Volunteers

Conflicts of Interest

Outside Earned Income & Employment Limitations

Financial Disclosure

Post-Employment Restrictions

 


Gifts      

Applies to All Members, Officers, and Employees

The House Gift Rule prohibits acceptance of anything having monetary value unless permitted by one of the exceptions stated in the rule.  Gifts allowed by the exceptions include –

 

¬        Any gift valued at less than $50, as long as the donor is not a registered lobbyist, foreign agent, or entity that retains or employs them

- Subject to annual limit of less than $100 in gifts from any private source in a calendar year

¬        Any item of nominal value (i.e., less than $10).  Baseball caps and t-shirts are allowed 

¬        Gifts from relatives (including in-laws)

¬        Gifts from other Members or employees (except from subordinates, unless a special occasion)

¬        Anything paid for by federal, state, or local government (includes federal agencies, cities, counties, towns, and public universities)

¬        Gifts based on personal friendship offered for a non-business purpose (but a gift over $250 requires prior written permission from the Standards Committee)

¬        Informational materials (books, videotapes, DVDs) sent to House office.  Includes periodicals if sent by publisher 

¬        “Home state products” of nominal value for distribution by House office

¬        Commemorative items, such as a plaque, if presented at event and inscribed

 

MEMBERS AND STAFF MAY NEVER SOLICIT A GIFT, OR ACCEPT A GIFT THAT IS

LINKED TO ANY ACTION THEY HAVE TAKEN OR ARE BEING ASKED TO TAKE.


Attendance at Events

Applies to All Members, Officers, and Employees

Several provisions of the gift rule permit House Members and staff to accept free attendance at certain types of events. 

¬        Receptions offering only “food or refreshments of nominal value” that are not “part of a meal” (e.g., light appetizers and drinks or soda and cookies)

-         Source of invitation and number of people in attendance is immaterial

In addition, where the free attendance comes from the sponsor of the event (not an entity that merely donated money or bought a table), free attendance is permitted at –

¬        Widely attended” events.  Must (1) have at least 25 non-Hill attendees, (2) be open to public or to a wide range of individuals, and (3) be connected to one’s official House duties

-         May also accept free attendance for one accompanying individual

-         May accept a meal that is offered to all attendees as part of the event

-         May accept local transportation to event, if offered by event sponsor

-         May not accept a gift bag or souvenir unless otherwise permitted by gift rule

-         Sponsoring entity may employ lobbyists

 

¬        Charity events (i.e., an event whose primary purpose is to raise money for a 501(c)(3) nonprofit), unless the sponsoring entity is a registered lobbyist, foreign agent, or entity that employs them

-         May also accept free attendance for spouse or dependent child (but no other individual)

-         May accept local transportation to event, if offered by event sponsor

 

¬        Campaign or fundraising events sponsored by a 527 organization (e.g., a party organization or a PAC)

-   Travel and lodging also may be accepted in some circumstances


Privately Sponsored Travel – Through February 2007

Applies to All Members, Officers, and Employees

 

¬        Payment of necessary food, transportation and lodging expenses may be accepted from a qualified private sponsor for travel to a meeting, speaking engagement, or fact-finding event in connection with official duties.

-         Registered lobbyists may not pay for trips, but entities that employ them may

 

¬        Limit on number of days at the expense of the trip sponsor –

-4 days, including travel time, for domestic travel

-7 days, excluding travel time, for foreign travel (including Alaska & Hawaii)

 

¬        Entertainment/recreational expenses may not be accepted except as the gift rule allows

 

¬        Staff travel must be authorized in advance, in writing, by the supervising Member

 

¬        A form disclosing the identity of the sponsor, the purpose and itinerary of the trip, and the expenses paid must be filed with the Clerk of the House within 30 days after return

 

¬        Within certain limits, may extend trip at own expense and on own time

 

¬        May take one relative (including spouse, child, brother, sister or parent), if sponsor offers

 

¬         These rules do not apply to travel funded by the U.S. government (e.g., committee travel or CODELs) or by a foreign government (e.g., MECEA trips)

 

NOTE:  THE RULES above ARE NOT APPLICABLE AS OF MARCH 1, 2007. 
the committee will BE ISSUING additional guidance on the rules THAT will govern travel taking place after MARCH 1.


Campaign Activities

 

¬        Staff may do campaign work on own time (whether as volunteer or paid campaign employee), but no employee can be compelled to do campaign work

 

¬        No campaign activities allowed in any congressional office or room (including district offices)

 

¬        No use of congressional office resources (including equipment, supplies, or files) for any campaign purpose

 

¬        Criminal statute prohibits solicitation and acceptance of political contributions from or in any House building

-   Unsolicited contributions mistakenly sent to the House office may be forwarded to campaign within 7 days.  May not use the Frank

-   Do not accept any contribution that is linked to any official action, past or prospective

 

¬        Campaign funds are to be used for bona fide campaign or political purposes

-   With limited exceptions, campaign funds and resources may not be used for official purposes

-   See Committee’s advisory memorandum of July 26, 2006 for acceptable uses of campaign funds by Member office

-   Personal use or borrowing of campaign funds is prohibited

 

¬        No staff contributions to employing Member’s campaign

-   No staff outlays for employing Member’s campaign (other than for campaign-related travel taking place on employee’s own time), even if the employee is promptly reimbursed

 

 

 


Constituent Casework

 

¬        Members have broad discretion in helping constituents before federal government agencies:

-   May make a status inquiry; urge prompt and fair consideration; ask for full and fair consideration consistent with applicable law and regulations; arrange appointments – or, when warranted by the merits of the case, express judgment or ask for reconsideration of a decision

 

¬        No preferential treatment for the Member’s supporters, contributors, or friends in casework matters – treat all constituents fairly, and on the merits of their claims

 

¬        Avoid “ex parte” communications in cases before agencies or courts – i.e., off-the-record communications to the decision-maker that are made without prior notice to all parties

 

¬        Members and employees may not contact an agency on a matter in which they have a personal financial interest

 

¬        May not directly or indirectly threaten reprisal against any agency official, or promise favoritism or benefit

¬        Job recommendations to federal agencies for regular civil service positions may include only statements that are based on personal knowledge of the applicant, or address the applicant’s character (e.g., honesty, integrity) or residence (e.g., lives in district or state).  See Committee’s October 1998 advisory memorandum

-   Generally, recommendations to private entities may be made on official letterhead only when Member has worked with applicant in an official capacity


Official or Privately-Sponsored Events

 

¬        Member may not jointly sponsor a town hall, briefing, meeting, or other event with any private group or entity. 

 

¬        Member may not accept cash or in-kind support from any individual or private organization for an official event

 

¬        May use campaign funds (funds from a Member’s principal campaign committee only) to pay certain expenses for an official House event.  Permissible expenses include food and beverages, printed material distributed at the event, room rental,  and travel expenses for guest speakers 

-   May not use campaign funds to advertise an official House event 

 

¬        Member may use official funds and the Frank to publicize an official House event 

 

¬         Members may be listed as an “honorary co-host” or guest speaker at a private group’s event, provided the invitation clearly identifies the sponsor of the event

-    Outside groups may not use Member’s official letterhead or the House seal

-    May not use official resources (including the Frank, official press release, or House website) to advertise an event being sponsored by a private entity

-   May issue a “Dear Colleague” about a private group’s event only after the event sponsor has issued its invitation, and only if the event is taking place in a House or Senate room

 


Involvement with Outside Entities

 

¬        Members and staff generally may be employed by or volunteer for an outside entity (including charities and for-profit companies), provided there is no conflict with official House duties

-   In work for an outside entity, Members and staff may not

-   Use official House resources (including office space, equipment, e-mail, official mailing lists, official letterhead, or the House seal)

-   Perform work for an outside entity in House office space (including district offices)

-   Staff must also –

-   Obtain approval of employing Member

-   Perform work on employee’s own time

 

¬        For paid employment by an outside entity, Members and “senior staff” (those paid above $111,675 by the House) must comply with the outside employment restrictions (see p. 12)

 

¬        Members and staff may solicit contributions for a § 501(c)(3) charity or other entities qualified under § 170(c) of the Tax Code, provided that no official resources are used, no official endorsement is implied, no direct personal benefit results to the individual, and registered lobbyists are not targeted.

-   Prior, written approval from the Committee is required for all other solicitations

-   Members may be identified by any of their personal titles (Representative, Congressman, Congresswoman, or Member of Congress).  House staff may not list their House affiliation in solicitations on behalf of an outside entity

-   Solicitations featuring a Member’s name may be subject to FEC restrictions 

 


The Honoraria Ban

 

¬        An honorarium is a payment for any speech, appearance, or article

 

¬        Members, officers, and senior House employees (i.e., those paid above $111,675 for 2007) are prohibited from receiving any honoraria

 

¬        In lieu of an honorarium, the sponsor of an event or the publisher may donate up to
$2,000 per event to a charity qualified under § 170(c) of the Tax Code, provided that –

(1)  The event sponsor or publisher makes the donation directly to the charity; and

(2)  Neither the Member or employee, nor a relative of a Member or employee, receives any financial or tax benefit from the donation

 

¬        Charitable donations in lieu of honoraria must be reported on the annual Financial Disclosure Statement of those required to file them

 

¬        Employees paid below the “senior staff” rate (i.e., below $111,675) may accept an honorarium, unless any one of three conditions is true:

(1) The subject matter is directly related to his or her official duties

(2) The payment is made because of the individual’s status with the House, or

(3) The payor has interests before the House that the employee may affect

 


Interns, Fellows, and Volunteers

 

¬        Member or House offices may accept temporary services of an unpaid intern if the intern is participating in a program that is primarily of educational benefit to the individual

-   “Educational benefit” test satisfied if the individual is receiving academic credit

-   Member office may establish its own internship program.  Consult with Committee  for further information

-   Members may not raise funds for programs that place interns in their office

 

¬        Member or House offices may accept temporary services of a fellow in a mid-career education program while the individual receives compensation from his or her employer

 

¬        Member or House offices may accept the temporary services of a volunteer not part of an outside program, provided the Member or office has a clearly defined program to assure that the voluntary service – 

-   Is of significant educational benefit to the volunteer, and

-   Does not supplant the normal and regular duties of paid employees

 

¬        Member office may not use official resources to solicit or recruit volunteers

 

¬        Interns, fellows, and volunteers should not be assigned duties that will result in any direct or indirect benefit to the sponsoring organization, other than broadening the individual’s knowledge

 

 

 


Conflicts of Interest

 

 

¬        Official position and confidential information may not be used for personal gain

 

¬        A Member must abstain from voting on a matter on the House floor only if the Member has a direct, distinct personal or pecuniary interest in the matter

-   Ownership of stock in a publicly-traded company generally will not present a conflict of interest requiring recusal from voting

 

¬        Additional caution is required in deciding whether to sponsor legislation affecting personal financial interests, in view of the greater degree of advocacy involved in sponsorship

 

¬        Under criminal law, Members may not contract with a federal agency except in limited circumstances (relating primarily to participation in certain federal farm support programs)

-   Prohibition includes leasing or selling real property to a federal government entity

 

¬        Spouses and other family members have substantial discretion in employment and investments.  However –

-   Members and staff should not do any special favors for family members

-   Members may not hire family members in their congressional offices

-   If Member or employee’s spouse or immediate family member engages in lobbying or similar activity, contact Committee for guidance

 

¬        Criminal law generally prohibits federal employees, outside their official duties, from representing anyone before the federal government or in court on any matter in which the government is a party or has a direct and substantial interest – even on an unpaid basis


Outside Earned Income & Employment Limitations

Apply only to Members, Officers, and “Senior Staff”

 

 

“Senior Staff” in 2007 is anyone paid at an annual rate of $111,675 or more for over 90 days

 

OUTSIDE EARNED INCOME LIMIT FOR CALENDAR YEAR 2007 – $25,200

 

NO paid professional services involving a fiduciary relationship, including law, real estate or insurance sales, financial services, or consulting or advising (see 5 U.S.C. app. 4 § 502(a))

 

NO affiliation for compensation with any firm that provides such professional services

 

NO use of name by any firm that provides such professional services

 

NO paid service as officer or board member of any organization

-   Unpaid board service is permitted

 

NO paid teaching without advance written approval of the Standards Committee

 

NO advances on copyright royalties in book contracts; royalties may be accepted only if contract is with an established publisher on customary terms and is approved by Standards Committee

 


Financial Disclosure

Members, Officers, Senior Employees, and Principal Assistants

 

¬        Annual reports due by May 15th of each year, covering the prior calendar year. 

-   New senior employees must file within 30 days of beginning House employment

-   Termination reports required within 30 days of departure from House payroll

 

¬        Standards Committee may grant an extension of due date if a written, signed request is received before original due date

 

¬        Must disclose income (earned and unearned), assets, liabilities, transactions in securities and real property, certain gifts, travel expenses, outside positions, and agreements

 

¬        Financial information regarding spouse and dependent children must also be disclosed

 

¬        $200 late filing fee; possibility of additional Committee action for late, incorrect, or incomplete filing; civil action may be initiated by the Department of Justice

 

¬        Standards Committee reviews all reports, and upon request will pre-screen draft reports

 

¬        Staff paid at the “senior rate” (at or above $111,675) for 60 days or more in a year must file

-   A Member who does not have an employee paid at that rate must designate a “principal assistant” who files 

 

Contact the Committee or the Legislative Resource Center
for forms and detailed instructions on how to complete them


Post-Employment Restrictions

Apply only to Members, Officers and “Very Senior Staff”

“Very Senior Staff” is any employee of a Member, committee, or leadership office who was, in the one year prior to leaving House employment, paid at an annual rate of $123,900 or more for at least 60 days

For ONE YEAR after leaving office:

¬        A Member or Officer  may not communicate with or appear before a Member, officer, or employee of either House of Congress or any Legislative Branch office with intent to influence official action on behalf of anyone else

 

¬        Very Senior Staff may not communicate with or appear before the individual’s former employer or office with intent to influence official action on behalf of anyone else

¬        Staff from a Member’s personal office are barred from lobbying only that Member

¬        Staff of a committee are barred from lobbying any Members who are currently on that committee or served on it during the employee’s last 12 months of House employment

¬        Leadership staff are barred from lobbying House leadership of both parties

 

¬        A Member, Officer, or Very Senior Staff Member:

¬        May not represent or advise a foreign government or a foreign political party

¬        May represent oneself, a state or local government, or the U.S. government as an official or employee of a government agency or entity

¬        May not lobby the staff of a Member in lieu of lobbying the Member directly

 

Violation of these prohibitions is a felony under 18 U.S.C. § 207.  Penalties include fine and/or imprisonment.  The Committee website contains advisory memoranda for both Members and staff with more detailed information on these restrictions.