Members' Representational Allowance
During each session of Congress, each Member has a single MRA available to support the conduct of official and representational duties to the district from which elected. Committee on House Administration regulations state that the MRA is to be used to pay “ordinary and necessary expenses incurred by the Member or the Member’s employees within the United States, its territories, and possessions in support of the conduct of the Member’s official and representational duties to the district from which elected.”2 The MRA may only be used for official and representational expenses. The MRA may not be used to pay for any expenses related to activities or events that are primarily social in nature, personal expenses, campaign or political expenses, or House committee expenses.3 Members may be personally liable for misspent funds or expenditures exceeding the MRA.4
The rules governing the MRA include the following restrictions:
- The MRA may be used only for official expenses;
- The MRA may not be converted to personal or campaign use or applied toward any unofficial activity;
- As a general matter, only the MRA and Members’ personal funds may be used to defray official expenses;
- House Rule 24, which sets forth the prohibition on unofficial office accounts, bars the use of private funds or in-kind support from outside sources for official activities;
- In addition to possibly violating House rules, the misuse of the MRA may also subject a Member or employee to criminal prosecution and actions to recover the misspent funds; and
- The Committee on House Administration governs certifications, documentation, and other standards for reimbursement from the MRA; that Committee’s regulations are set forth in the Members’ Handbook.
Example 1. Member A’s wife is a travel agent. A may not make official travel arrangements through his wife’s agency because she, and thus A, would then be benefiting monetarily from the expenditure of official funds.
Example 2. Member B’s district manager is part owner of a building in the district. B may not rent space in the employee’s building for the congressional district office.
Example 3. Member C is very interested in the matter of childhood literacy and would like to have her congressional staff, during official hours, work with a local literacy group in enlisting volunteer tutors, locating children who need help, and making arrangements for the volunteers to work with these children. It is not permissible for the office to undertake such a project because congressional staff may not engage in such a charitable undertaking while on official congressional time and using any official House resources.
In the 100th Congress, the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct investigated charges that a Member had allowed his former law firm to use official resources.5 The Standards Committee found that over a nine-year period, the firm had been permitted access to government photocopy services, furniture, supplies, long distance telephone lines, and a receptionist’s services. For this and other violations, the House reprimanded the Member.
A Member is responsible for assuring that resources provided for support of official duties are applied to the proper purposes.6 In the 101st Congress, the Standards Committee determined that a Member was “remiss in his oversight and administration of his congressional office” regarding a mailing sent out by staff over his signature on his official letterhead.7 The mailing did not comport with House Rule 23, clause 11, in that it promoted a cruise sponsored by a private organization and requested that follow-up contacts go to the Member’s congressional office.
The Members’ Handbook provides examples of items for which reimbursement with the official allowances may be permitted, as well as a list of prohibited expenditures. Included among the permissible uses are expenditures for certain travel, office equipment leases, district office leases, stationery, telecommunications, printing and product services, costs of audio and video recordings produced in the House Recording studio, postage, computer services, and other expenses related to a Member’s official business. Included among impermissible uses are expenditures for greeting cards, social events or activities, consultants, vendor security deposits, dues and membership fees, educational expenses to obtain any level of educational degree, expenses associated with acquiring or maintaining professional certification or licensing, and employment relocation expenses.
Anything supported with official funds is an official resource, including congressional offices. The House Office Building Commission, comprised of the Speaker, the Majority Leader, and the Minority Leader, has issued regulations governing the use of House facilities.8 These regulations generally ban solicitation and commercial activity, limit photography, restrict use of meeting rooms to congressionally related purposes, and impose various health and safety restraints. In addition, as is true of all official resources, congressional offices may not be used for the conduct of campaign or political activities.
Example 4. Member D is planning to film a campaign commercial. D may not film in her congressional office because that would be using an official resource for a campaign purpose. She may film her commercial outside the Capitol in the areas designated by the Sergeant-at-Arms as part of the public space.
Other entities may have jurisdiction over the use of particular official resources. The Joint Committee on Printing, for example, publishes Government Printing and Binding Regulations pertaining to government documents. These regulations caution:
No Government publication . . . shall contain . . . material which implies in any manner that the Government endorses or favors any specific commercial product, commodity, or service.
The Joint Committee on Printing has advised that commercial advertising is not a proper or authorized function of the government. Such advertisements are unfair to those who do not so advertise in that, whether intentionally or not, they are frequently made to appear to have the sanction of the government. Furthermore, the publication of such advertisements is unjust to the public in that the advertisers profit thereby at the expense of the government, particularly as a considerable number of the publications are circulated free, at least in part, under government frank.
Members should also bear these regulations in mind in the context of the common practice of inserting an Extension of Remarks in the Congressional Record, noting the accomplishments of a district business. While it is usually appropriate publicly to congratulate a local business for achieving an award or celebrating a significant anniversary, Members should refrain from overtly commercial promotions. See Chapter 10 on official and outside organizations for further information.
2 Comm. on House Admin., Members’ Congressional Handbook (hereinafter “Members’ Handbook”).
3 Id.: Members’ Representational Account, General.
5 House Comm. on Standards of Official Conduct, In the Matter of Representative Austin J. Murphy, H. Rep. 100-485, 100th Cong., 1st Sess. 4 (1987).
7 House Comm. on Standards of Official Conduct, Statement Regarding Complaints Against Representative Newt Gingrich, 101st Cong., 2d Sess. 60 (1990).
8 House Office Building Comm’n, Rules and Regulations Governing the House Office Buildings, House Garages and the Capitol Power Plant (February 1999) (available from the Speaker’s Office).