The House Ethics Committee has quietly issued a new interpretation of the house gift "ban" which allows lobbyists to throw lavish parties for Members of Congress at national party conventions:
The reform coalition identifies the problem with this interpretation in their letter here . Specifically:
- The rule prohibits parties that honor a specific member, but allow tributes to a delegation or caucus. Thus, a party in honor of John Dingell is prohibited, but a party honoring members of the Energy and Commerce Committee is A-OK. The same is true of a party for the House Blue Dogs or Hispanic Caucus.
- The new ethics guidance allows lobbyists to circumvent even this mild restriction by setting up a shell entity that they fund, strictly for the purpose of throwing an otherwise prohibited tribute bash.
- A Member of the House can be listed as a host of the party, as long as there is at least on other host who is not a Member of Congress. So lobbyists can pay for a party hosted by Chairman Conyers (for example), as long one other person (probably the lobbyist who donates the most) is listed as a host as well.
- The House Ethics Committee -- which has advised members that the gift ban is written 'broadly' adopted a narrow interpretation that differs from the one adopted by both the Senate and the clerk of the House of Representatives.
The cumulative effect is that there's essentially no restriction of lobbyist-funded parties at the Democratic and Republican conventions.
Is this how Congress drains the swamp?