Statutes and Rules Governing Disclosure of Financial Interests
No federal statute, regulation, or rule of the House absolutely prohibits a Member or House employee from holding assets that might conflict with or influence the performance of official duties. However, acting partly to address the issues identified by the Bar Commission, Congress passed the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 (“EIGA”),2 which mandated annual financial disclosure by all senior federal personnel, including all Members and some employees of the House. The Ethics in Government Act, as amended, provides the statutory basis for the disclosure currently required of House Members, candidates, and senior House employees.3
House Rule 26 adopts Title I of EIGA as a rule of the House.4 House Rule 26, clause 1 requires the Clerk of the House to publish a report each August 1 compiling all Member Financial Disclosure Statements filed by June 15 of that year.
In addition, statutes and House rules restrict income from outside financial interests or govern aspects of the business dealings or investments of House Members and employees, as follows:
- Members and employees of Congress may not use their official positions for personal gain;5
- Members may not enter into or enjoy benefits under contracts or agreements with the United States;6
- Members and employees should not engage in any business with the federal government, either directly or indirectly, that is inconsistent with the conscientious performance of their congressional duties;7
- Members and employees may not receive any compensation or allow any compensation to accrue to their beneficial interests from any source if its receipt would occur by virtue of influence improperly exerted from a position in the Congress;8
- Members and employees of the House may not accept benefits under circumstances that might be construed by reasonable persons as influencing the performance of their governmental duties;9 and
- Members and employees should never use any information received confidentially in the performance of governmental duties as a means for making private profit.10
In its very first case, in the 94th Congress, the Standards Committee found that a Member had violated the prohibition on the use of one’s official position for personal gain when he sought benefits from an organization after he had actively promoted the establishment of that organization in his official capacity. The Committee found that the Member had worked, through his congressional office, to help establish a bank on a military base. During the time he was actively assisting in that effort, he approached organizers of the bank and inquired about the possibility of buying stock in it.11 He subsequently purchased 2,500 shares of the bank’s privately held stock. The Committee noted that “[i]f an opinion had been requested of this Committee in advance about the propriety of the investment, it would have been disapproved.”12 The Member was also found to have used public office for private gain in that he had sponsored legislation to remove a reversionary interest and restrictions on land in which he had a personal financial interest.13 The Member was reprimanded by the House.14
2 Pub. L. 95-521, 92 Stat. 1824 (Oct. 26, 1978). Legislative branch disclosure requirements were then codified at 2 U.S.C. § 701 et seq.
3 See Ethics in Government Act of 1978, as amended, 5 U.S.C. app. 4 § 101 et seq.
4 House Rule 26(2).
5 See House Rule 23, cl. 3; Code of Ethics for Government Service ¶ 5, H. Con. Res. 175, 72 Stat., Part 2, B12 (1958).
618 U.S.C. § 431.
7 Code of Ethics for Government Service, supra note 5, at ¶ 7.
8 House Rule 23, cl. 3.
11See House Comm. on Standards of Official Conduct, In the Matter of a Complaint against Representative Robert L.F. Sikes, H. Rep. 94-1364, 94th Cong., 2d Sess. 3 (1976).
12 Id. at 4.
13 Id. at 3-4.
14 122 Cong. Rec. 24379-83 (July 29, 1976).