House Democrats violated ethics rules during sit-in

matthew whitaker
Matthew G. Whitaker

WASHINGTON – While U.S. House Democrats staged their highly publicized sit-in on June 23 to protest inaction on gun control, some were busy soliciting donations.

Despite ethics rules prohibiting House Members from soliciting any campaign or political contribution that is linked to any action taken in that Member’s official capacity and using images from the House floor for political purposes, House Democrats sent fundraising emails in violation of those rules.

On June 27, the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT), a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting accountability, ethics and transparency in government and civic arenas, filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics to immediately investigate what appeared to be a flagrant breach of those ethics rules by Reps. Jarred Huffman, John Lewis, Ben Ray Lujan, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and members of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).

The House Ethics Manual explains: “A corollary of these rules is that Members and staff are not to take or withhold any official action on the basis of the campaign contributions or support of the involved individuals, or their partisan affiliation.”

The rule is “applicable to all official actions” and “no campaign contribution that is linked to an official action is ever acceptable.”

According to the complaint, signed by FACT Executive Director Matthew G. Whitaker, “All the emails identified … violated these rules. There can be no doubt that the sit-in and voting on a bill are actions taken in the Members’ official capacity. The e-mails directly tie the sit-in and holding a vote on a bill to a solicitation for a contribution, and some include official House television images.”

For example, the DCCC sent an email signed by Pelosi stating, “This is a historically important moment! John Lewis has been leading a sit-in on the House floor for 11 long hours now. We’re fighting to prevent gun violence. The Republicans refuse to lift a finger. It’s shameful. I need your help to defeat them once and for all.”

The email then asks for 6,000 donations with options to donate between $1 and $250.

FACT notes it was at least the sixth such e-mail from the DCCC as the sit-in carried on. Several of those emails were signed by Lewis.

Lujan sent an e-mail soliciting donations of $24, representing $1 for every hour “we’ve been in the well of the House Chamber demanding action.”

Lujan said he and his Democrat colleagues were staging the sit-in to demand a vote on the bi-partisan “No Fly, No Buy” bill and used an image from the House television and provided a link stating, “Click to contribute $24 (or whatever you can) right now to show your support.”

One email sent out by the DCCC noted Lewis and Pelosi had already emailed the recipients after the sit-in had gone on for 21 hours without a vote on “gun safety” and offered a triple match for donations.

It asked for 30,000 more gifts to defeat Republicans before the sit-in ended.

FACT stated, “The public expects, and the rules require, that Members take action based on merit, and not an effort to seek campaign contributions. This type of behavior is precisely why the public distrusts elected officials.”

In addition to urging the Ethics Board to investigate and take appropriate action, because any contributions received in response to the emails would be unacceptable, FACT also asked the Board “to require the contributions be returned.”