Beware the Swearing-In Receptions, Ethics Panel Warns New Lawmakers

A reception paid for by a lobbying firm or other private entity would be counted as an ‘impermissible gift’

Members-elect pose for a freshman class photo on the East Front of the Capitol on Nov. 14. The House Ethics Committee has warned them to think twice as they plan any swearing-in receptions. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photos)

Party planning can be a tricky business, the House Ethics Committee warned Thursday — especially when you’re throwing a swearing-in celebration for yourself.

After incoming members of Congress take the oath of office in January, they can use their campaign funds to pay for swearing-in receptions, but they’ll have to be careful with the invite list and event vibe.

“Such events should not be campaign or political in nature, such as limiting the invitee list to include only campaign contributors,” according to a memo released Thursday.

They can’t tap their office funds to pay for the swearing-in celebrations because the accounts can’t be used for receptions that are “purely social activities or social events.” The post-oath parties fit that bill.

While other entities may be scrambling to offer to host the receptions, members should be wary. A reception paid for by a lobbying firm or other private entity would be counted as an “impermissible gift” under House Ethics rules.

But there’s a workaround. A third party can sponsor a swearing in reception “in honor” of a member, as long as the sponsor is clearly identified to all participants, like being listed on the invitations. In that case, members can’t be a host of the event, and members and staff can’t touch any of the organizing or planning efforts. That means relinquishing control over the guest list and all other aspects of the event.

The memo tells members to stay tuned, because the Ethics Committee’s guidance could shift if the new Congress adopts changes to the ethics rules. When House Democrats take control of the chamber in January, one of their first goals is to push through a sweeping package of ethics changes, campaign finance overhaul and voting rights measures.

A second memo issued Thursday reminded the House that ethics training is required for each member, officer and employee of the House.

The panel held 95 in-person training sessions in the 115th Congress and trained over 2,100 people, according to the memo. Existing members are not required to take ethics training, but the committee encourages them to do so.

Incoming members of the House have 60 days to complete an official training session specifically designed for them. New employees in the House also have a training tailored just for them and have to complete it within the same timeframe. Existing House employees and officers are required to take one hour-long general ethics training annually.

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