Travel Unrelated to Official Duties
Below is a condensed version of this topic; for complete guidance please refer to the House Ethics Manual, Chapter 3 on travel.
Travel Unrelated to Official Duties Paid for by a Private Source
Several provisions of the gift rule allow Members and staff to accept travel unrelated to official duties from a private source, provided that certain conditions are satisfied. Of these, the two most important are the provision on benefits resulting from outside business, employment or other activities, and the provision on gifts given on the basis of personal friendship. All of these provisions are explored in detail in Chapter 2, and only their applicability to travel is discussed here.
Travel Resulting From Outside Business, Employment, or Other Activities
Subject to two restrictions described below, a Member, officer, or employee may accept transportation, lodging, meals, and other benefits that result from any of the following activities:
- Outside business or employment activities of the Member or staff person;
- Other outside activities of the Member or staff person that are not connected to the duties of the individual as an officeholder; or
- Outside business or employment activities of the spouse of the Member or staff person.
The restrictions on the acceptance of such travel are that (1) the benefits may not have been offered or enhanced because of the official position of the Member or staff person, and (2) the benefits must be ones that are “customarily provided to others in similar circumstances” (House Rule 25, clause 5(a)(3)(G)(i)). These are the sole restrictions that apply to travel taking place under this provision of the gift rule. Travel of this type is not subject to the requirement for pre-travel Committee approval, the post-travel disclosure requirement, or the other specific restrictions that apply to officially-connected travel that is paid by a private source, such as the time limits on travel, the limitation that only a spouse or child may accompany the traveler, or the prohibition on recreational activities.
- Example 6. A staff person’s son is a Boy Scout. The Boy Scouts of America offer the staff person an all-expense-paid week-long trip to the Grand Canyon if he will chaperone the scouts. He may accept, provided that the trip was not offered because of the staff person’s official position.
- Example 7. A Member’s wife is a lawyer with a private law firm. Every year the firm invites all of its lawyers and their spouses to a weekend retreat at a resort hotel. This retreat would be offered to the Member’s wife regardless of the identity of her spouse. Both the Member and his wife may accept the invitation.
- Example 8. A staff person’s spouse works as a flight attendant for an airline that offers free travel to all employees and their immediate families to the extent that seats are available. The staff person may accept the free flights.
- Example 9. A Member has written a book, and her publisher offers to send her on a book tour around the country. The Member may accept, provided that the tour is comparable in duration and benefits to those that the publisher has provided to similarly situated authors in the private sector.
- Example 10. A Member is an uncompensated member of the board of directors of a corporation. The corporation provides transportation, lodging, and meals to each of its directors in connection with its monthly board meetings, and in connection with the corporation’s annual meeting, all of which occur in San Francisco. The Member may accept this travel from the corporation.
As a related matter, a Member, officer, or employee may also accept transportation, lodging, meals, and other benefits “customarily provided by a prospective employer in connection with bona fide employment discussions” (House Rule 25, clause 5(a)(3)(G)(ii)).
As noted above, travel resulting from such outside business, employment, or other activities should not be reported on the 15-day Post-Travel Disclosure Forms that are filed with the Clerk. Those forms are for reporting officially-connected travel only. However, as with officially-connected travel, travel resulting from outside activities that exceeds $335 in value in a calendar year must be reported on Schedule VII of the annual Financial Disclosure Statements of Members and officers, and of those employees required to file an annual statement.
Gift of Travel Given on the Basis of Personal Friendship
Like gifts of other kinds, a gift of travel that is given on the basis of personal friendship may be accepted, unless the Member or staff person has reason to believe that, under the circumstances, the gift was provided because of his or her official position with the House, and not because of the personal friendship (House Rule 25, clause 5(a)(3)(D)). The specifics of the gift rule provision on personal friendship gifts are explored in Chapter 2, in the section entitled “Gifts Given on the Basis of Personal Friendship.” Before accepting any gift of travel under this provision, a Member or staff person should review that section carefully.
There is an important limitation on the acceptance of gifts of travel under this provision. A gift exceeding $250 in value – and any significant travel will almost certainly exceed that amount – may not be accepted on the basis of personal friendship unless the Committee issues a written determination that the personal friendship provision applies. Thus, if the travel will exceed $250 in value, an advance written request for approval must be submitted to the Committee. The Committee keeps any such request, as well as its response, confidential.
Note also, however, that travel accepted on the basis of personal friendship that exceeds $335 in value must be reported on Schedule VI of the annual Financial Disclosure Statement of a Member, officer, or filing employee, unless the Committee waives the reporting requirement. The Committee will consider written requests for waiver of the reporting requirement, but such waiver requests are made publicly available. Additional information on reporting of gifts and the standards for granting a waiver is provided in the Financial Disclosure Instructions booklet issued by the Committee.
Three other gift rule provisions under which travel unrelated to official duties may be accepted are as follows.
First, the rule allows the acceptance of certain opportunities and benefits that are similarly available to individuals outside the House (House Rule 25, clause 5(a)(3)(R)). Under this provision, for example, flights obtained through an airline’s frequent flier program, when the miles are accumulated through one’s own travel, may be accepted. This provision is more fully explained in the gifts publication, in the section entitled “Widely Available Opportunities and Benefits.”
Second, the provision allowing the acceptance of honorary degrees also allows the acceptance of travel associated with the presentation of the degree (House Rule 25, clause 5(a)(3)(K)).
Finally, the rule provides that a Member, officer, or employee may accept “[a]nything for which the [official] pays the market value” (House Rule 25, clause 5(a)(3)(A)). However, under a new rule adopted in the 110th Congress, Members generally may not use personal funds to pay for a flight on a non-commercial aircraft. See the section “Use of Non-Commercial Aircraft is Generally Prohibited” in the Ethics Manual.