Letter urging the House ethics committee to publicly clarify gift rules

October 19, 2007

Representative Stephanie Tubbs-Jones


Committee on Standards of Official Conduct

HT-2 The Capitol

Washington, DC 20515

Dear Representative Tubbs-Jones:

In September, President Bush signed into law the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007. Members of Congress hailed passage of the law as a landmark ethics reform designed to "change the way business is done in Washington," as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared.

Barely a month later, an October 14, 2007 report in The Washington Post described efforts both inside and outside of Congress to circumvent the new law.

We are writing to urge the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct to investigate the allegations in the report that Members of Congress attended events with tickets apparently paid for by lobbyists or their employers. In our view, the practice as detailed in the Post article of lobbyists purchasing tickets for $2,500 each from a charity to a fundraising dinner, and then giving the tickets back to the charity to give to specific members of Congress is a violation of the letter and certainly of the declared spirit of the law.

The gift ban statute is clear: "A Member, officer or employee may not knowingly accept a gift from a registered lobbyist, an agent of a foreign principal or a private entity that retains or employs a registered lobbyist.". The statute should not be interpreted as permitting an indirect gift.

Additionally, the committee itself has issued a letter that exhorts Members and staff to "keep in mind that the intent of the House gift rule is to protect the integrity of the House. The House Code of Official Conduct requires House Members and staff to adhere to the spirit as well as to the letter of the Rules of the House. Narrow, technical readings of the House gift rule should be avoided."

We urge you to issue public guidelines clarifying for Congress and the public that indirect gifts are not permitted.

The Post report showed an unfortunate pattern of "business as usual" on Capitol Hill, celebrating the new ethics law in public while allowing lobbyists to work around the new law even as it was being signed by the president. We urge the committee and the congressional leadership of both parties to send a strong message to Members of Congress and lobbyists that this new law will be enforced and that the way business is done in Washington has indeed changed.

We look forward to your attention on this matter.


Bob Edgar

President and CEO

Common Cause

cc: Rep. Doc Hastings, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Rep. John Boehner

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