These are the areas which experienced Chiefs of Staff identify as having the most potential for ethical conflicts. These areas should be addressed in your written office policy:
- Balancing congressional work with campaign or political work. Everyone recognizes that this is a political environment and that the political and official interests of an office will overlap. You need to carefully manage the grey area of how much these activities can overlap before your behavior is deemed unethical.
- Gifts and travel. There are strict rules and limits about what you can accept. However, it is also an area where strict adherence to the rules does not protect you from reasonable questions of appearance of impropriety. Members, and even staff, are often invited to participate in all-expenses-paid conferences in very attractive locales. No matter how hard the Member may work at such a conference, reasonable people could easily conclude that it is a thinly disguised vacation, and one purchased for the Member by an individual or a group interested in influencing the Member.
- Handling campaign contributors: access and preferential treatment. This area probably has the greatest potential for “appearance of impropriety” questions. Any action involving campaign contributors, particularly those who gave a significant amount, is inherently suspect. Some offices attempt to shield policy and casework staff from knowing who the Member’s contributors are, believing that ignorance is the best defense. Others want staff to be familiar with these names so staff can be doubly sure that their actions raise no questions of impropriety.
- Constituent services -- intervening with the executive branch on behalf of constituents. Going to bat for your constituents is a routine part of your duties. How far you can go on their behalf before you begin to exercise “undue influence” is a grey area.
For additional information, see the page on "Guidelines for Managing Ethics in Congressional Offices," the ethics chapter in Setting Course, and/or contact us.