Congress

House Ethics launches new system for fundraising exemption requests

Memo also reminds lawmakers of existing fundraising rules

House Ethics released a memo reminding members of fundraising rules. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The House Ethics Committee issued a memo Thursday, informing lawmakers of a new simplified way to request a waiver from fundraising rules and reminding them of exactly what those rules are.

“Please note, the circumstances under which Members, officers, and employees may engage in fundraising activities are very fact specific,” reads the memo from Chairman Ted Deutch of Florida and ranking member Kenny Marchant of Texas.

Under the “simplified process for fundraising requests,” members would find it easier to get written approval from the Ethics panel before making solicitations on an organization’s behalf, the memo said.  

Lawmakers are generally allowed to fundraise on behalf of 501(c)(3) charitable organizations, as well as state or local governmental entities, including public schools, and certain veterans groups.

But the exemption from the anti-solicitation laws does not extend to fundraising on behalf of organizations established or controlled by current lawmakers, officers or employees. Members must request permission to assist with fundraising activities for those groups.

The House Ethics website already features a new “Solicitation Waiver Request” form. After submission, the committee will review and potentially request additional information, before approving or rejecting the request.

“The ‘Solicitation Waiver Request,’ and any Committee response, will remain confidential,” the memo reads.

Define fundraising

The memo reiterates that members are permitted to fundraise, without committee approval, for political organizations including: members’ campaign committees, political action committees, political parties and state or local candidates for office. Lawmakers can also directly fundraise for state-level ballot initiative committees.

A broad swath of actions and activities can be defined as fundraising, the memo reminds lawmakers. In general, fundraising constitutes soliciting directly or indirectly for something of value from another person or organization.

“Fundraising activities include asking for money; asking for in-kind contributions or memberships; using a Member, officer, or employee’s name for a fundraising event on an invitation, on social media, on letterhead, or in a letter; and making phone calls or in-person appearances asking for donations,” according to the Ethics memo.

Donations, including flags, lunch with a members or Capitol tours to an auction also count, in addition to raising funds for a charitable walk or run or attending an annual gala, all count as fundraising actions.

The memo also warns lawmakers to be careful how they represent themselves, even when doing fundraising permitted by law and the Ethics panel. 

They cannot use their official titles — member, representative, congressman or congresswoman — and they have to steer clear of giving any impression that their efforts are endorsed by the House. That means even details like stationary selection are key.

“No official titles, letterhead, or envelope used in a solicitation may bear the words ‘Congress of the United States,’ ‘House of Representatives,’ or ‘Official Business,’ nor may the letterhead or envelope bear the Great Seal of the United States, the Congress, or the House,” the memo informs lawmakers.

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