Frequently Asked Questions

Gifts - FAQs

Q:    I was invited to an event, but the sponsor of the event employs lobbyists.  Does this mean I may not go?

A:    Yes.  Unless it meets an exception to the Gifts Rule, you may not accept the invitation.

Q:    Our office received a gift of a non-perishable item that was in excess of the Gifts Rule limit.  It would offend the donor to return the gift.  Can we just donate it to charity?

A:    No.  If a gift’s value is in excess the Gifts Rule limit and it is not a perishable item, it must be returned.  The frank may be used to return prohibited gifts.

Q:   Our office received a bouquet of flowers and we do not know who it came from.  It is clearly in excess of the Gifts Rule limit.  What should we do?

A:   Because the gift is a perishable item and impossible to return, it may be placed in the common area of the office for all visitors to enjoy, or may be donated to charity.

Q:   I am an intern who gives Capitol tours.  A constituent who I led on a tour sent me a thank-you note along with a $25 bookstore gift card.  May I keep it? 

A:   No.  Because the gift was accompanied by a thank-you for an act performed in your official capacity, it constitutes an illegal gratuity under federal law.  The gift card is also a cash equivalent that may not be accepted whether or not it was accompanied by a thank-you. 

Q:   I was given a ticket to a Washington Nationals baseball game, but the ticket has no face value.  What is the value of the ticket?

A:   Under federal law and Senate rules, if a sporting or entertainment ticket does not have a face value, its value is that of the ticket with the highest face value for the particular event, plus the value of any other items you receive for free at the event (i.e., food, parking access, etc.).

Q:   My best friend is a lobbyist.  Does this mean I cannot accept gifts from him?

A:   Not necessarily.  If you have a history of exchanging gifts with your friend, if he is personally paying for a gift, and if the gift is not given due to your Senate position, you may accept the gift.  However, if the gift is over $250 in value, you must seek and receive the Ethics Committee’s permission to accept it.

Q:   I am getting married this year and I’m worried about accepting gifts because of the Senate Gifts Rule.  What should I do?

A:   You should seek a written “wedding waiver” for gifts given to you on the occasion of your wedding.

Q:   I was invited to a charity event by someone who bought a table at the event and who wants me to sit at the table with them.  May I accept?

A:    No.  You may only accept an invitation to a charity event from the overall, organizing sponsor of the event.  “Table sponsors” are not overall, organizing sponsors of the event.

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Privately-Sponsored Travel - FAQs

Q:   Where do I turn in my pre-travel and/or post-travel submissions?

A:   Please submit your pre-travel request to the Senate Select Committee on Ethics in 220 Hart.  Submit your post-travel submission to the Office of Public Records in 232 Hart.

Q:   Where can I find the documents I need to submit for my pre-travel approval request?

A:   Please visit the “Travel” section on the Ethics Committee’s website for a description of the documents required.

Q:   Who may sign my Employee Pre-Travel Authorization and Employee Post-Travel Disclosure of Travel Expenses forms?

A:    This form may must be signed and dated by your supervising Senator or Officer.  Officers include the President of the Senate, President pro tempore, Secretary of the Senate, Sergeant at Arms, Secretary for the Majority, Secretary for the Minority, and Senate Chaplain. 

Q:   Do I need to get approval from the Ethics Committee to accept an invitation to travel on a trip that has been approved by the State Department under the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act (“MECEA”)?

A:    No.  Because MECEA travel has already been approved by the State Department under a separate statutory framework, approval under the Senate travel rules and regulations is not required.  Please contact the Department of State if you have questions on whether or not a MECEA trip has been approved.

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Campaign - FAQs

Q:  May I receive compensation for working on a campaign? 

A:   Yes, provided you have your employing Senator’s permission, and do it on your own time without using official resources, and follow all other rules and regulations.  Senate employees who earn an annual rate of pay in excess of $119,554 (CY2013) are subject to the outside earned income limit.  Such Senate employees may not receive compensation in excess of $26,955 (CY2013) in a calendar year for providing services.  

Q:  I want to work part-time in the Senate office so that I may also work on a campaign.  What is the minimum amount of time that I have to work in the Senate office?

A:   You must work at least one full day per week in the Senate office to remain on the Senate payroll.

Q:  I know it is against federal law to give campaign contributions to my employing Senator, but can my spouse or other relatives donate to my Senator’s campaign?

A:   Yes.  Only employees are prohibited by 18 U.S.C. § 603 from making campaign contributions to their employing Member.   However, your spouse may not make a contribution from any joint account in which you are an account holder.

Q:  Can I volunteer to campaign for a local political candidate? 

A:    Yes, provided you have your employing Senator’s permission, and do it on your own time without using official resources, and follow all other rules and regulations. 

Q:  May I run for an elective office?

A:   Generally, yes for state or local office.  However, there are additional restrictions for running for federal office.  You should seek the approval of your supervising Senator and contact the Ethics Committee for guidance before running for any elected office.

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Conflicts - FAQs

Q:  An employee working on the Environment and Public Works Committee is invited to sit on the Board of Directors of a non-profit formed with the objective of promoting environmental issues.  The organization does not lobby or receive federal funding.  May the employee serve on this board? 

A:  No.  The employee should not serve on this board.  The supervising Senator has jurisdiction over these matters and the organization has a legislative interest in such matters, and thus this could create a subject matter conflict of interest.

Q:  A Senator has been asked to write a foreword for a book.  The Member will receive no compensation, may the Senator write the foreword? 

A:   Yes.  The Senator may write the foreword as long as it is written in the Senator’s personal capacity and does not use official resources.  The Senator may use the title “Senator,” but may not use “United States Senate” or “Official Business.” 

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Prohibition on Unofficial Office Accounts - FAQs

Q:  When can the Senator use official funds?

A:   The expenditure of official funds is under the jurisdiction of the Committee on Rules and Administration.  Any questions regarding official funds should be directed to the Committee on Rules and Administration

Q:  May a Senator use official or campaign funds to pay for flags flown over capitol that are requested by constituents?

A:   It depends.  A Senator may only use official funds to pay for flags that are sent to public organizations such as churches, schools and patriotic service groups.  Please contact the Committee on Rules and Administration for further guidance.   In addition, if a Senator deems the donation of a flag officially-connected, he or she may use campaign funds to purchase flags.  If the donation does not fit within the above two criteria, constituents must pay for the flags.

Q:  Can the Senator put a link to a nonprofit on the official website?

A:   Official resources, including emails and websites, are under the jurisdiction of the Committee on Rules and Administration.  Any questions regarding official emails and websites should be directed to the Committee on Rules and Administration

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Constituent Services - FAQs

Q:  Can the Senator contact an executive branch agency on behalf of a constituent?  

A:  Senators have broad discretion regarding whether and how to help their constituents.  However, Senators are not permitted to make decisions to provide or deny assistance based on party affiliations and contributor status.  In addition, the Committee has recommended Senators consider whether the agency is performing a quasi-judicial, adjudicative, or enforcement function and should not contact an agency involved in such functions.   Before contacting an executive branch agency on behalf of constituents, offices should first contact the Congressional liaison for that agency to see if such intervention would be permitted at that time. 

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Financial Disclosure - FAQs

Q:  Will the Committee review my Financial Disclosure Report before I file it to make sure that it has been filled out correctly?

A:  Yes.  If you wish to have your form reviewed please understand that such requests will become more difficult to accommodate as the due date approaches.

Q:  How is the information in my report used?

A:  The Public Financial Disclosure Report is used as a tool for the public to monitor possible conflicts of interest.  This report also provides information that allows constituents to judge official conduct in light of possible financial conflicts with private holdings.

Q:  Do I need to report my spouse’s retirement (e.g., 401(k), 403(b), SEP, etc.) account?

A:  Yes.  You are required to report any retirement plan of your spouse.  You should report the underlying assets in the account as separate line items in Part 3.  For funds held in the account, you should determine whether they meet the definition of the “Excepted Investment Fund” (EIF), so you can report them correctly.

Q:  I am separated from my spouse.  Do I need to report his/her assets?

A:   You do not have to report your spouse’s assets if you are living apart with the intention of terminating the marriage or permanently separating.

Q:  I have a § 529 (prepaid tuition) account for my child.  How do I report it?

A:   The type of plan that you have will determine what needs to be reported in Part 3 of the Senate Financial Disclosure Report.  For a prepaid college tuition plan, you should report the sponsoring state and name of the plan; the current value of the plan; and income type and amount.  For a prepaid savings plan, you should list the sponsoring state and each of the portfolios in which the plan is currently invested; the current value; and income type and amount.  For prepaid savings plans, each of the underlying investment choices should be broken out as a separate item, with value and income category checked. Most of the investment choices offered by these plans will be Excepted Investment Funds (EIFs).

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Training - FAQs

Q:   Who is required to receive ethics training?

A:   Under the law, all Senators and staff must complete ethics training within 60 days after commencing their service or employment.  Training may be completed by attending a live session or watching the on-line training video.  Senate offices must certify twice a year that all new personnel have been trained.

Q:   How do I sign up for training?

A:   Individuals wishing to sign up for training may register through the Office of Education and Training.  Offices wishing to schedule group training for their staff may contact the Ethics Committee directly (202-224-2981) to set up a date and time for in-office training.

Q:   Do I need to repeat ethics training if I transferred from one Senate office to another office?

A:   No.  If you transferred offices without any break in Senate employment, you do not need to repeat ethics training.

Q:   I just received ethics training.  What should I do with my Individual Certification of Ethics Training Requirement form?

A:   Submit your form to your office’s Ethics Certification Officer, who will file it with the Ethics Committee on the appropriate date.

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