An important part of the Committee’s work is responding to questions from, and providing advice to, House Members and staff regarding the laws, rules and standards that govern their official conduct. Committee staff is available to provide informal advice over the telephone, by email, or in person, and the Committee will provide a formal written opinion in response to a proper written inquiry.
Informal advice and formal written opinions. While Committee staff is available to provide informal advice - orally or by email - it should be noted that only the Committee’s formal written opinions are binding on the Committee. That is, under Committee Rule 3(j), the Committee "may take no adverse action in regard to any conduct that has been undertaken in reliance on a written opinion if the conduct conforms to the specific facts addressed in the opinion."
Accordingly, especially with regard to questions that are unusual or complex, the Committee encourages a written inquiry. Committee Rule 3(i) requires that the Committee keep confidential any request for advice from a Member, officer or employee of the House, as well as any response thereto.
Inquiries from organizations and individuals outside the House. The Committee also attempts to respond to inquiries from outside organizations and individuals, whether written or oral. However, pursuant to House Rule 11, Clause 3(a)(4), the Committee can only provide formal advisory opinions to House Members and staff.
The Committee must always give priority to inquiries from House Members and staff. Prior to contacting the Committee with any question, individuals outside the House should carefully review the applicable materials provided here in Highlights of the Ethics Rules, the House Ethics Manual, the advisory memoranda, and the Financial Disclosure Instruction Booklet.
The Committee does not "approve" particular trips, events or gifts. At times the Committee receives requests from outside organizations or individuals to "approve" a particular event to which House Members or staff will be invited, or a particular gift. However, in general, the Committee does not grant such approval.
This is so because the key provisions of the gift rule (clause 5 of House Rule 25) do not lend themselves to such grants of approval. Instead, under those provisions of the rule, the acceptability of a particular gift depends in large part on a determination to be made by the individual Member or staffer - for example, whether the subject matter of a trip or an event is connected to official duties of the invited individual. While those determinations must be made in a reasonable way, it is the responsibility of the individual Members and staffers to make them in the first instance, not this Committee.
Thus, Members and staffers should be wary when an outside organization or individual asserts that a particular event or gift has been approved by the Committee. In that circumstance, it is advisable either to ask the person if he or she has a letter from the Committee that you can review, or to contact the Committee directly.