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The House Ethics Committee issued a report last month with evidence that campaign donors were offered one-on-one meetings with Members of Congress, that senior Congressional staff participated in nearly every fundraising activity a Member conducted, and that a lobbyist discussed both a legislative concern and a fundraising event with a Member’s chief of staff.
The committee found nothing wrong with any of it.
Although the House Ethics Manual forbids the use of official resources to support campaign or political activities, the case of the three lawmakers who came under scrutiny demonstrates how closely intermingled those activities can sometimes be.
Last month, the Ethics Committee issued a report on the fundraising efforts of Reps. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), Tom Price (R-Ga.) and John Campbell (R-Calif.) and concluded that, contrary to the judgment of the independent Office of Congressional Ethics, “each Member’s fundraising activities raised no appearances of impropriety. Nor did they violate any law or other applicable standards of conduct in connection with their fundraising activities.”
The OCE, reviewing the same facts, had concluded that some of the fundraising activities the Members had engaged in “gave the appearance that special treatment or access was provided to donors or that contributions were linked to an official act.”
The conflicting conclusions highlight the ongoing dispute between the external OCE, which has no authority to punish Members of Congress, and the internal House Ethics Committee, which does. But perhaps most noteworthy about the case is the detailed account of the activities the Ethics Committee considers permissible.
The Ethics Committee found that the Members maintained sufficient distance between fundraising and legislative activities because they each had professional fundraisers. “These fundraising consultants had no interaction whatsoever with the three Members or their legislative staff on legislative activities.”
However, the committee’s report shows just how close the interaction can be between Members’ Congressional offices and their fundraising operations.
For example, the committee report includes e-mails from Crowley’s fundraising consultant thanking a financial industry lobbyist “for helping out Crowley for Congress and JOE PAC” and offering times and dates when the Congressman is available for a one-on-one meeting. Similarly, a fundraiser for Campbell sent an e-mail to a corporate donor asking for a contribution and noting that “Congressman Campbell wanted me to see if you are available to do a 1-on-1 coffee or lunch with him. He prefers these to big events. Is there any way you can do $1k or even $500 to help him out?”
The invitation included a broad window of times the Congressman would be available during two weeks Congress was in session.