The Ethics Manual provides guidance regarding how to minimize this concern when handling requests for assistance from contributors. It says that several factors warrant attention. First, there is the merit of the individual’s request. Second, there is the amount of the contribution or contributions the individual has made or raised, including whether the amount is more than the average contribution. Third, there is the history of the individual’s donations, including whether the individual has made donations in the past. Next, there is the nature of the individual’s request, including whether it would require the Senator to take an action that would deviate from normal conduct. And, finally, there is the proximity of time between an individual’s contribution and the request for assistance.
None of these factors is controlling or by itself requires or prohibits a particular course of action. In fact, the Ethics Manual makes a point of saying that, when fielding requests for help from contributors, the Ethics Committee does not endorse or require any particular procedure as it “does not seek to elevate form over substance.”
So, by all means, continue to help your constituents — contributors and noncontributors alike. I am no expert in fundraising, but I suspect that a sure way to see a drop in campaign funds is to implement a policy against helping contributors. The good news is that nothing in the ethics rules requires you to stop helping contributors. Just remember to take care while you are doing it.
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.