Other Applicable Laws, Rules, and Standards of Conduct
Below is a condensed version of this topic. For complete guidance please refer to the House Ethics Manual, Chapter 4 on campaign activity.
- Laws and Rules on Campaign Letterhead
- Gift Rule Provisions Applicable to Campaign Activity
- Member Involvement With an Independent Redistricting Fund
- Other Provisions of the Federal Criminal Code Applicable to Campaign Activity
Letterhead and envelopes that a Member uses for campaign or political purposes, including the solicitation of funds, are subject to at least three authorities.
First, the “facsimile rule,” which is set forth in House Rule XXIII, clause 11 prohibits a Member from –
authoriz[ing] or otherwise allow[ing] an individual, group, or organization not under the direction and control of the House to use the words ‘Congress of the United States,’ ‘House of Representatives,’ or ‘Official Business,’ or any combination of words thereof, on any letterhead or envelope.
A Member’s campaign committee is a group or organization “not under the control and direction of the House” and hence is subject to the restrictions of this rule, i.e., the letterheads and envelopes that a Member uses for campaign or political purposes may not include the institutional names cited in the rule or otherwise violate the provisions of the rule. Since it is reasonable to expect, however, that campaign letterhead and envelopes adequately describe the office for which the candidate is running, institutional names may be used if clearly in that context. In other words, letterhead and envelopes may use phrases such as “Smith for Congress,” “Smith for House of Representatives,” or “Reelect Representative Smith to Congress of the United States.” Campaign letterhead and envelopes should not in other respects (such as font or layout) resemble official stationery.
Second, a provision of the federal criminal code, 18 U.S.C. § 713, prohibits the use of certain governmental seals on, among other things, stationery, “for the purpose of conveying . . . a false impression of sponsorship or approval by the Government of the United States or by any department, agency, or instrumentality thereof.” As amended in 1997, the statute applies to not only the Great Seal of the United States, but also the Seal of the House of Representatives and the Seal of the United States Congress.
Third, the Deceptive Mailings Prevention Act provides that any solicitation by a nongovernmental entity that reasonably could be interpreted as implying any federal government connection, approval or endorsement must carry a disclaimer, both on the internal documents and on the envelope, conspicuously stating that it is not an official mailing.101 Among the features that may, under the statute, raise an implication of governmental approval is the use of a seal or insignia, or citation to a federal statute or the name of a federal program. In addition, such a solicitation may not include a false representation stating or implying that federal government benefits or services will be affected by any contribution or failure to contribute.
In summary, a letter sent by a Member on behalf of either the Member’s campaign or another political organization may not have, in the letterhead or on the envelope, either –
- The institutional names “Congress of the United States” or “House of Representatives,” unless clearly in the context describing the office for which the candidate is running, as discussed above;
- The term “Official Business;” or
- Any likeness of any official seal, including the Seal of the United States, or the Seal of the House or the Congress.
Accordingly, such a letter may not be sent on a letterhead that resembles official stationery, even if the stationery was not printed at government expense and bears a disclaimer to that effect.
However, the letterhead and envelope of a campaign or political letter may use –
- Personal titles such as “Member of Congress,” “Representative,” “Congressman,” or “Congresswoman;”
- A Member’s title as a chair or ranking member of a full committee, or as a member of the House leadership, as those are considered personal titles as well;
- The district served by the Member, and the Member’s committee assignments; and
- A likeness of the Capitol Dome; the Dome is in the public domain and is therefore not protected in the same manner as official seals.
At times the Ethics Committee receives inquiries regarding the stationery that is sold in the House stationery store that bears an embossed seal or “House of Representatives” in the letterhead. In accordance with the advice set forth above, even when that stationery is purchased with the Member’s personal funds or with campaign funds, it should not be used to solicit campaign support or contributions. (However, it is permissible for a Member to use this stationery, purchased with personal or campaign funds, to send personal thank you notes for contributions or campaign assistance.)
In certain circumstances, he Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) and implementing regulations issued by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) require that letters sent on behalf of a federal campaign include a campaign disclaimer.102 Any questions on those rules should be directed to the FEC.
Finally, for reasons set forth above, the letterhead of stationery printed with campaign funds – and in particular any letterhead used for soliciting contributions – may not include any address or telephone number of any House office.
Members and staff are fully subject to the provisions of the House gift rule (House Rule XXV, clause 5) while engaging in campaign activity. This includes staff persons who go to part-time status or Leave Without Pay status for the purpose of doing campaign work. A full explanation of the gift rule is found in Chapter 2 of the House Ethics Manual. Several provisions of the rule apply specifically with regard to campaign and political activity, and those provisions are noted briefly here.
First, the rule provides that among the gifts that a Member or employee may accept is a contribution that is lawfully made under the Federal Election Campaign Act, or a lawful contribution for election to a state or local government office (House Rule XXV, clause 5(a)(3)(B)). See the discussion on “No Link with an Official Action or Special Access.”
Second, a Member or employee may accept “[f]ood, refreshments, lodging, transportation, and other benefits . . . provided by a political organization . . . in connection with a fundraising or campaign event sponsored by such organization.” (clause 5(a)(3)(G)(iii)). The political organizations to which this provision refers are those described in § 527(e) of the Internal Revenue Code, which encompasses entities organized and operated primarily for the purpose of accepting contributions or making expenditures for the purpose of influencing the election of any individual to a public or political office.
In order to qualify as a fundraising event under this provision, the primary purpose of the event must be to raise campaign funds. Thus, Members and employees may participate in a golf tournament or attend a show or other event sponsored by a political organization only if the event is a bona fide fundraising event. In other words, it would not be permissible to play a round of golf at third party expense and then for the third party to separately make a donation to a political organization that is not the event organizer.
This provision allows the acceptance of a ticket to a political fundraising or campaign event only from the political organization that is sponsoring the event. It does not allow the acceptance of a ticket from a person that simply donated money or purchased tickets to the event. However, it is possible that a ticket from someone other than the sponsoring political organization may be acceptable under one of the other provisions of the gift rule. For example, a Member or employee may accept a ticket that has a value of less than $50, provided that the donor is not a registered lobbyist, foreign agent, or entity that employs or retains such a person, and that the gift does not exceed the annual, per-source gift limitation of less than $100 (clause 5(a)(1)(B)). Under longstanding policy, a ticket to a political fundraising dinner (as well as a charity fundraising dinner) is valued at the cost of the dinner, rather than the face value of the ticket. Thus, depending on the circumstances, it is possible for a ticket to a fundraising dinner to be acceptable under the less-than-$50 provision of the gift rule even though the ticket has a face value of greater than $50.
As more fully described in Chapter 2 of the House Ethics Manual, during the days of the national political party conventions, a Member may not participate in an event held in the Member’s honor paid for by a registered lobbyist or an entity that employs or retains such a person. House Rule XXV, clause 8.
The gift rule also allows Members and staff to accept travel expenses from a private source to participate in a fact-finding trip or appear for a speaking engagement. Occasionally a question arises as to whether a Member or staff person, while on such a trip, may engage in incidental campaign activity, such as attending a campaign fundraiser. The Ethics Committee understands that FEC rules limit the ability of Members and staff to engage in federal campaign activity in the course of privately paid travel. Before undertaking such a trip that would include campaign activity, a Member or staff person should consult with the FEC on the applicability of those rules.
Members are often interested in supporting organizations dedicated to influencing the redistricting process that can arise out of the once in-a-decade census. A Member may associate with and raise money for such a fund only in accordance with the guidance on the solicitation of funds contained in Chapter 10, on involvement with outside organizations. Because such organizations typically are neither political organizations under § 527 of the Internal Revenue Code, nor qualified under § 170(c) of the Code, written Committee authorization to solicit on behalf of such an organization is generally required.
In addition, the Committee understands that the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act imposed certain limitations on the ability of federal officeholders, including House Members, to solicit on behalf of outside organizations. Federal Election Commission (FEC) guidance on the status under the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) of organizations dedicated to influencing the redistricting process is currently unclear,103 and it is therefore advisable for any Member wishing to raise funds on behalf of such an organization to also contact the FEC.
A number of the provisions of the federal criminal code that apply to campaign activity are discussed in the preceding sections of this chapter. There are other provisions of the code that House Members and employees should be aware of as well. Under those provisions, a Member or employee may not –
- Promise to use support or influence to obtain federal employment for anyone in return for a political contribution (18 U.S.C. § 211);
- Deprive, attempt to deprive, or threaten to deprive anyone of employment or any other benefit provided for or made possible by an Act of Congress appropriating relief funds because of that person’s political affiliation (18 U.S.C. § 246);
- Pay or offer to pay any person to vote or to withhold a vote or to vote for or against any candidate in a federal election (18 U.S.C. § 597);
- Solicit, accept, or receive an expenditure in consideration of a vote or the withholding of a vote in a federal election (18 U.S.C. § 597);
- Use any appropriation by Congress for work relief or for increasing employment, or exercise any authority conferred by any appropriations act, for the purpose of interfering with, restraining, or coercing any individual in the exercise of the right to vote (18 U.S.C. § 598);
- As a candidate, directly or indirectly promise to appoint any person to any public or private position for the purpose of procuring support for that candidacy (18 U.S.C. § 599);
- Promise employment or any other benefit provided for or made possible by any Act of Congress as a reward for political activity or support (18 U.S.C. § 600);
- Cause or attempt to cause anyone to make a political contribution by denying or threatening to deny any government employment, or benefit provided for or made possible, in whole or in part, by any Act of Congress (18 U.S.C. § 601);
- Solicit or receive political contributions from persons known to be entitled to or to be receiving relief payment under any Act of Congress (18 U.S.C. § 604);
- Furnish, disclose, or receive for political purposes the names of persons receiving relief payments under any Act of Congress (18 U.S.C. § 605);
- Intimidate any federal officer or employee to secure political contributions (18 U.S.C. § 606).
Elaboration on certain of these provisions is found in a publication of the U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Prosecution of Election Offenses, Seventh Edition, May 2007.
101 39 U.S.C. § 3001(h), (i).
102 2 U.S.C. § 441d; 11 C.F.R. § 110.11.
103 See alternate unapproved drafts of FEC Advisory Opinion 2003-38. See also FEC Advisory Opinions 1990-23, 1982-37, and 1982-14.