Administration and Enforcement of the Outside Employment and Outside Earned Income Limitations, and Impact of the Limitations

Below is a condensed version of this topic; for complete guidance please refer to the House Ethics Manual, Chapter 5 on outside employment and income.

Administration and Enforcement

    Statutory law provides that with respect to House Members, officers, and employees, the outside employment and earned income limitations are administered by and subject to the rules and regulations of the Standards Committee (5 U.S.C. app. 4 § 503(1)).89  That statute also authorizes the Committee to render written advisory opinions on these provisions to Members and staff. Under the statute, any Member or staff person who acts in good faith in accordance with a written advisory opinion from the Committee is not subject to sanction under the statute.  The Committee therefore encourages anyone with questions regarding outside employment or income to contact the Committee for guidance.

    Statutory law further provides that the Attorney General may bring a civil action against any individual who violates the outside employment or earned income limitations, and that the court may assess a civil penalty of up to $11,000 or the amount of compensation for the prohibited conduct, whichever is greater (5 U.S.C. app. 4 § 504(a)).  A Member, officer, or employee who violates any of the limitations is also subject to disciplinary action by the House.  In any event, the Standards Committee may require a Member or staff person who receives compensation in violation of any of the limitations to return the impermissible amount to the payor.  When return would be impracticable, the Committee may permit the individual instead to make a donation in that amount to a charitable organization, with that donation being explicitly designated by the individual as having been made to remedy the violation.  As to whether, in a given case, this remedy is permissible is for the Committee, not the individual, to decide. 

Impact of the Limitations

    The overall effect of the outside employment limitations as summarized above – particularly when considered with the honoraria ban and the other provisions on outside employment discussed in this chapter – is to severely restrict the ability of Members and senior staff to earn outside income.  As a practical matter, relatively few Members receive outside earned income for services they provide on a current basis.90  For the most part, those having such income receive it either from an approved teaching position or from a business that is controlled by either the Member or the Member’s family.  By and large, the senior staff members who have such income receive it for outside political work for either their employing Member or another candidate, or a political party.91

89 Under that statute, the Standards Committee also administers these provisions for certain legislative branch agencies, but it may delegate this authority to those agencies.

90 A number of Members receive earned income from services they rendered in the past, such as payments from a pension plan, or, for example, in the case of a Member who had been an insurance agent, renewal commissions generated by policies that he or she sold prior to becoming a Member. 

91 While Members and senior staff are generally prohibited from receiving income for any consulting services, there is an exception for political consulting for a candidate, a political party, or a Member’s leadership PAC.