WASHINGTON – The House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct — better known as the ethics committee — released a memo to House members earlier this year outlining what their tax-funded Hill offices could and could not do during election season.
Campaign activity by congressional staffers is not prohibited outright. The committee allows one person to keep both the congressional and campaign schedules for the congressman, for example, noting that it would be impossible to coordinate schedules otherwise. It also allows Hill press aides to answer occasional political questions.
The committee allows campaign and congressional activities to occasionally cross over, within specific limits, among them:
— No campaign activities may be conducted in any congressional office, nor may any congressional office resources (including equipment, supplies or files) be used for campaign purposes.
— Political contributions may not be solicited from any congressional office, and any donations sent to the office must be forwarded immediately to the campaign. But congressmen are free to solicit one another for donations in House buildings.
— Staffers may campaign on their own time, but the congressman may not juggle workloads to create free time for staffers to campaign. They cannot be compelled to work for the campaign.
— Hill offices cannot be used as backdrops for campaign ads, and records of official House activities may not be used in campaigns.
— Congressional mailing lists may not be used by campaigns, and congressional seals and emblems may not appear on campaign literature, although the incumbent can identify himself in that literature by his title.
— Campaign funds may not be put to other uses and campaign vehicles should primarily be for campaign use, although they can occasionally be used for official business.
— Campaign web sites and congressional office web sites may not be linked to one another or advertise one another.
— And staffers may not contribute to their member’s campaigns.
The committee adds that it expects members “to enforce the general rule that any campaign-related activities done by staff members will be done on their own time, outside the congressional office, and without the use of any official House resources.”