Ethics working group examines restrictions on members in outside roles

Group hears proposals, including ban from serving as private company directors

Rep. Susan Wild, D-Pa., left, and Rep. Van Taylor, R-Texas, talk before the start of the House Committee on Ethics’ Outside Positions Working Group discussion in the Longworth House Office Building on Thursday, July 25, 2019. The group is working to draft proposed regulations governing House Members, officers, and employees’ outside positions. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A working group of the House Ethics Committee convened Thursday to consider how to construct rules governing the roles members of Congress can hold in outside entities, such as limited liability companies and nonprofits.

Van Taylor, a Texas Republican, and Susan Wild, a Pennsylvania Democrat, led the Outside Positions Working Group as it examined potential restrictions on lawmakers, officers and staff in the House.

These included Public Citizen’s government affairs lobbyist, Craig Holman, calling for lawmakers to be banned from serving on private company boards  of directors and prohibited from similar service as an officer or director of limited liability companies that pose a potential conflict of interest with official duties.

[Ethics Committee announces working group]

Wild said the working group, in concert with the Ethics Committee, will look to strike a balance in their rulemaking.

“I do think we have to weigh the interest in ethical conduct, transparency, public trust, with the need to not just have a Congress that consists of people who are strictly from the public sector, have no business interests or anything like that,” Wild said.

The charge of the working group goes back to the case of Rep. Chris Collins. The New York Republican was charged by the Securities and Exchange Commission for alleged insider trading involving the Australian biotech company Innate Immunotherapeutics last year.

He served on the company’s board of directors while in Congress. There is a House Ethics investigative subcommittee inquiry into Collins that is waiting for the conclusion of his upcoming federal district court trial, which is scheduled for February 2020 in New York City.

House Resolution 6 created a new clause in the Code of Official Conduct — set to take effect Jan. 1, 2020 — that prohibits members, delegates, resident commissioners, officers or employees in the House from serving as an officer or director of any public company.

The Ethics Committee is required to develop by Dec. 31 regulations addressing other prohibited service or positions that could lead to conflicts of interest.

Donald K. Sherman, deputy director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said in his testimony that positions with nonprofit organizations can lead to conflicts or the appearance of conflicts, whether or not financial in nature, particularly if the organization has a great deal of interaction with Congress like lobbying.

Taylor asked Sherman if it would create a conflict of interest if one of his staffers served as a scoutmaster. Sherman said, generally, that he doubted that would create a conflict, but noted that if the staffer was a member of the board of the Boy Scouts of America, it could pose a conflict as a congressional employee.

“If we were to be completely pure about this, I think we would establish a rule that you don’t do anything outside of be in Congress ... but i don’t think we’re headed in that direction,” Wild said. “I think it would create such a stricture that it would be almost impossible to get people to run for Congress.”

Taylor and Wild will have a conference call or a group email on the matter over the next week with the Ethics Committee, she said. House Ethics Committee Staff will then put together a proposed rule with guidance and feedback from Wild and Taylor.

“I think the most advantageous way of going about it is to make sure that we craft a set of rules that make it clear what you can and cannot do,” Wild said. “So it might be that you could be on a nonprofit board, but you cannot engage in fundraising for that nonprofit, as an example.”

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