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Official Support Organizations

Official support organizations generally take one of two forms, either as a registered Congressional Member Organization (“CMO”) or a Congressional Staff Organization (“CSO”). 

Congressional Member Organizations

The term “CMO” refers to a particular category of working group3 of Members organized to pursue common legislative objectives.  Such entities must register with the Committee on House Administration.  In addition to the House rules applicable to all Members, officers, and employees, CMOs are subject to specific Committee on House Administration regulations.4

Restrictions on CMOs flow from the principle that Members should not be allowed to do collectively – through a working group – what the Rules of the House prohibit Members from doing individually.  Thus, like any other congressional organization, a CMO must comply with House Rule 24, which prohibits unofficial office accounts.  As a general rule, no private resources (except the personal funds of Members), whether monetary or in-kind, may be used for the operation of a CMO.5  Conversely, any group that is supported by private resources may not receive support from official allowances and may not provide legislative services to Members.  Thus, a CMO may not use official resources to support the operations of a private organization.  Like other congressional offices, however, a CMO may distribute to Members reports, analyses, or research material prepared by private parties, as long as the real source of the material is disclosed.6

Because CMOs are considered extensions of the individual offices of participating Members, a member of a CMO may use employees and official resources under the control of the Member to assist the CMO in carrying out its legislative objectives, but no employees may be appointed in the name of a CMO.  A CMO may not be assigned separate office space.7

Congressional Staff Organizations

CSOs exist for the purpose of facilitating interaction among congressional staff.  A CSO may only make incidental use of official resources in connection with its activities.  Furthermore, the members of a CSO should contact the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct before accepting anything of monetary value from a private source.   A CSO must register with the Committee on House Administration in each Congress in order to use official resources.

Informal Member and Staff Organizations

Members and employees may also associate with caucuses and other informal groups not registered as CMOs or CSOs.  Informal Member caucuses are distinguishable from CMOs in that the former are dependent on the support of individual Members for their existence, while CMOs  are recognized by the Committee on House Administration and may be supported directly by disbursements from official allowances (and by the House itself in the form of office space and facilities).  House Rule 24 applies to both registered and informal organizations, however, because each plays a direct role in assisting individual Members in the conduct of their official responsibilities.  Thus, an informal caucus organized by a group of Members to assist them in official matters may not invite an individual not in Congress to be a member of the caucus, nor may any private individual or organization contribute funds or other resources to support the caucus.

Staff may also associate with informal groups not registered with the Committee on House Administration.  While an informal staff group may receive some limited private assistance notwithstanding House Rule 24, other considerations limit the amount of such assistance that may be accepted.  As discussed in Chapter 2 concerning gifts, the House gift rule prohibits Members, officers, and employees from accepting gifts except as permitted by the rule.  The receipt of anything of value by a group of employees primarily for their own benefit (as opposed to the benefit of the group as a whole) would be a gift subject to the rule, although its value would be apportioned among all the recipients.  Additionally, the Code of Ethics for Government Service prohibits federal officials, including House Members and staff, from accepting “benefits which might be construed by reasonable persons as influencing the performance of official duties.”8  House staff involved with an informal group should exercise caution in accepting anything of value from a private source, including by contacting the Committee as necessary.

3 A CMO often may be referred to as a “caucus,” “task force,” “delegation,” “coalition,” or similar term.  For purposes of this chapter, the term “CMO” refers to all Member organizations that are supported by official resources.

4 See Comm. on House Admin., Members’ Congressional Handbook (hereinafter “Members’ Handbook”).  The Committee on House Administration has also issued regulations concerning expenditures from committee funds.  See Comm. on House Admin., Committees’ Congressional Handbook (hereinafter “Committees’ Handbook”).  Both handbooks are available on the Committee on House Administration’s website.

5 Members’ Handbook, supra note 4.

6 See id.

7 See id.

8 Code of Ethics for Government Service ¶ 5, H. Con. Res. 175, 85th Cong., 2d Sess., 72 Stat., Part 2, B12 (1958) (reprinted in the appendices).