In March, however, the Ethics Committee issued a memorandum with new guidance on this issue. The purposes of the new guidance, the memorandum says, are “to reduce confusion among constituents and the general public, and to help clarify the difference between campaign media and official media.” To these ends, Members’ campaign websites may now include a link to their official House websites, provided the link is “presented in” a notification that the House Ethics Committee has approved in advance.
There is one very specific notification that the Ethics Committee has already approved: “Thank you for visiting my campaign website. If your intention was to visit my official House of Representatives website, please click here.” Posting a link with this notification does not require prior approval from the Ethics Committee. “Using any other language” in a notification, however, requires written approval from the committee.
The new guidance also permits Members to link to their official House websites from other unofficial websites, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Again, however, Members may do so only if the link is presented in a notification approved by the Ethics Committee.
The committee calls this new guidance “an exception to the general rule that campaign resources may not be used to advertise” official Congressional contact information. That general ban remains in place, as does the ban on posting a link from an official House website to a campaign website. Given the general policy against using House resources to help incumbents get re-elected, I would not expect the latter ban to change anytime soon.
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.