When Rep. Dave Reichert relocated to a new District home in January, he didn’t need to hire movers: Three of his aides volunteered to help schlep his belongings.
According to Reichert’s office, the aides who took part in the midweek move did so of their own volition and used vacation days, a decision that Congressional ethics observers said likely kept the Washington Republican on the right side of House rules.
It’s an old and in some ways unremarkable story — Hill staff do little personal chores for Members of Congress all the time.
Both the House and Senate ethics manuals bar Members from utilizing staff for non-Congressional work and offer detailed guidance on maintaining the divide between official and personal time when staff work on campaigns.
But individuals familiar with the ethics process acknowledged that there is a gray area between official duties and personal favors to Members.
“Obviously all kinds of things go on on Capitol Hill as an accommodation to Members by staff who, in a sense, volunteer to do things that might be considered personal, like going to get lunch or picking them up at the airport,” said attorney Stan Brand, a former House general counsel who often represents Members before the Ethics Committee.
“The problem comes if it’s on a larger scale or is perceived to be done as a condition of employment, even though it’s quote ‘voluntary,’” he added. “But as long as people feel free not to do it, and as long as it’s clearly not a condition of their employment, I think they can use their leave time as they see fit.”
According to Reichert spokesman Charles McCray, three aides — Legislative Correspondent Quinton Hershiser, Legislative Assistant Ashley Johnson and Staff Assistant Colin Swanson — helped Reichert move his belongings on a late-January weekday when the House was not in session.
“They were told they needed to take a vacation day for that, but they still decided to help out,” McCray said.
McCray said the aides were aware of the move from casual conversation “chatting in between meetings and votes and things like that,” but that Reichert did not e-mail the staff or otherwise issue a request for help from his office staff.
“These folks knew the Congressman was planning on moving and so offered up their help,” McCray said.
A pair of photos posted to Hershiser’s Facebook account dated Jan. 27 depicted an event labeled “Moving our boss.”
In one of the photos, two individuals, one of whom is identified as Johnson, were shown carrying what appeared to be a carpet. The second photo showed a man, who is smiling broadly, standing in the rear of a moving truck filled with furniture. Neither of the photos included Reichert.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.