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The question here is whether an iPad is treated as a personal computer or a handheld communication device for purposes of the rule. If it’s a personal computer, Senate rules would prohibit using campaign funds to pay for an iPad used for official purposes. If it’s a handheld device, it meets the exception.
Earlier this month, this question was addressed squarely in a “Dear Colleague” letter issued jointly by the Ethics Committee and the Rules and Administration Committee. The Ethics Committee issues guidance regarding conduct by Senators and employees, while the Rules and Administration Committee oversees the appropriate use of official Senate funds.
The letter states that “tablet computers, such as iPads and other similar devices, may be purchased with funds from a Senator’s principal campaign committee and used by Members and employees on a Member’s personal office staff for both official and campaign purposes.” The reasoning is similar to the reasoning in creating the exception for handheld communications devices. Specifically, the letter states that it is “intended to provide Senate Members and employees with the convenience of using a single handheld communications device for multiple purposes (i.e., official and campaign), at no cost to the taxpayer, without unduly intruding upon the Senate’s role in providing equipment for Senate duties.”
If your Senator’s campaign decides to take advantage of this exception, or already is, there is good reason to proceed with caution.
The Dear Colleague letter closes with a useful reminder about protecting confidential information. Because campaign-funded iPads do not operate within the firewall of the Senate Computer Center, “confidentiality and security are not assured,” the letter says.
So, before using a campaign-funded iPad for official purposes, it might be wise to brush up on the rules on treatment of confidential information and to make sure the iPad is set up appropriately.
Either that, or just stick to games of Angry Birds.
C. Simon Davidson is a partner with the law firm McGuireWoods. Click here to submit questions. Readers should not treat his column as legal advice. Questions do not create an attorney-client relationship.