Nepotism

Below is a condensed version of this topic. For complete guidance please refer to the House Ethics Manual, Chapter 7 on staff rights and duties.

Federal law, at 5 U.S.C. § 3110, generally prohibits a federal official, including a Member of Congress, from appointing, promoting, or recommending for appointment or promotion any “relative” of the official to any agency or department over which the official exercises authority or control.  The statute defines a relative, for these purposes, as "an individual who is related to the public official as father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, first cousin, nephew, niece, husband, wife, father-in-law, mother-in-law, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, stepfather, stepmother, stepson, stepdaughter, stepbrother, stepsister, half brother, or half sister."

The law bans the employment only of these specifically named relatives.15  It does not prohibit a Member from employing two individuals who are related to each other but not to the Member.  In addition, the 107th Congress amended the Code of Official Conduct (House Rule 23, clause 8(c)(1)) to prohibit a Member from retaining a spouse in a paid position, and to prohibit a House employee from accepting compensation for work on a committee on which the spouse serves as a member.16

The employing Member or committee and subcommittee chairman must certify, on the monthly payroll authorizations, each employee’s relationship (or lack thereof) to any Members of Congress.  The anti-nepotism law, as applied in the House, thus prohibits the hiring of a relative of a Member on that Member’s staff or on the staff of a committee or subcommittee that the Member chairs.  The prohibition, however, does not apply “in the case of a spouse whose pertinent employment predates the One Hundred Seventh Congress” (House Rule 23, clause 8(c)(2)).

If a House employee becomes related to the employing Member through marriage (e.g., an employee in the Member’s congressional office marries a relative of the Member), the employee may remain on the Member’s personal or committee staff, unless the employee is the spouse of the employing Member or works for a committee on which the Member serves.  Similarly, if a Member becomes the supervisor of a relative (other than a spouse) who was hired by someone else (e.g., the Member ascends to the chairmanship of a committee or subcommittee for which the relative is already working), the relative may remain on the payroll.  However, the Member may not then give that individual further promotions or raises, other than cost-of-living or other across-the-board adjustments.  Changing an employee’s status from part-time to full-time would not be considered a raise or promotion and, therefore, would be permitted under 5 U.S.C. § 3110. 

Similarly, regulations issued by the Committee on House Administration prohibit the use of committee funds for the benefit of a Member or relative of a Member by way of a contract or otherwise.  Specifically, those regulations state that “[u]nless specifically provided by federal laws, House rules, or Committee on House Administration regulations, no Member, relative of the Member, or anyone with whom the Member has a professional or legal relationship may directly benefit from the expenditure” of either the clerk hire or the official expenses allowance.17  A comparable provision applies to House committees.  The anti-nepotism restrictions apply only to employees on the Member’s or a committee’s official payroll.  Campaign workers are not covered.

Example 5.  Member D would like to hire his uncle by marriage to work in his congressional office.  Member D would be in violation of House Rule 23 by hiring a specifically named relative. 

Example 6.  Employee F has been a caseworker in Member E’s district office for two years, and she later marries Member E’s son.  Employee F may remain on Member E’s payroll. 

Example 7.  Employee G works on Member F’s committee, and Employee G and Member F get married. Employee G may no longer receive compensation from the committee on which Member F serves.


15  See Lee v. Blount, 345 F. Supp. 585, 588 (N.D. Cal. 1972).

16 See H. Res. 5, 107th Cong., 1st Sess. (147 Cong. Rec. H6-10, H8 (Jan. 3. 2001)).

17 Members’ Handbook, supra note 6.