Prohibition on Unofficial Office Accounts

Topics

General Rule

Senate Rule 38 prohibits unofficial office accounts.  Accordingly, private donations, cash, or in-kind goods and services may not be used to support official Senate activities or expenses.  Conversely, official resources may not be used for any private purpose.  See 31 U.S.C. § 1301.

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“Official” or “Officially-Connected” Expenses

Senate Rule 38 provides that expenses in connection with official duties may be paid from one of the following sources:

  • Appropriated (official Senate) funds
  • A Member’s personal funds
  • A Member’s principal campaign committee funds (with the exception of expenses for franked mail, employee salaries, office space, or equipment and any associated information technology services)
  • Reimbursements from Ethics Committee-approved privately-sponsored travel
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Use of Official Senate Funds

Please consult the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration with questions regarding the use of Senate funds.

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Exchange of Information between Private Parties and Senate Offices

The nature of the legislative process contemplates and even encourages the free flow and exchange of ideas and information between private parties and Senators and their staff.  Accordingly, Senators and staff may seek and accept advice on legislative issues from outside organizations, and outside organizations may voluntarily provide ideas, information, memoranda, research, and legislative language.  Senators and staff, however, may not direct or control an outside organization to do Senate work.

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Support by Governmental Entities

Senate Rule 38 prohibits private subsidy of Senate activities.  Accordingly, Members, officers, and employees may accept limited support by state or local government entities.  See generally Senate Rule 35.1(c)(16).  This provision permits government entities to cooperate with a Senator in carrying out a specific event or activity, but does not permit a government entity to make a continuing or sustaining contribution to a Senator’s office.  Government entities may not provide funds or defray expenses for use of the frank, employee salaries, office space, or equipment.

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Co-Sponsored Constituent Service Events

A Senator may participate in official constituent service events co-sponsored with public or private entities.  The event must have as its purpose in providing information or some other service to constituents, and it may not be simply a gathering of representatives of those sponsoring the event.  A co-sponsor of a constituent service event should:

  • Have a common core of interest with the Senator in the subject matter of the event by virtue of the cosponsor’s routine business activities,
  • Be able to participate in and attend the event, and
  • Not be a mere financial contributor. 

Senators may pay for their travel and that of their staff with official funds.  However, expenses of a Senator or employee connected with such an event may not be paid by the co-sponsors of the event. 

All co-sponsors should be listed in equal prominence on invitations or other literature promoting the event and noted as co-sponsors. 

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Interns, Fellows, and Detailees

Senators may participate in intern, fellowship, or similar educational programs that are primarily of educational benefit to the interns, fellows, or detailees.  The supervising Senator is responsible for determining if such a program is primarily for the educational benefit of the individual, rather than being primarily a means of performing the official or officially-related activities of the Senate office.  Interns, fellows, and detailees may be provided with travel expenses, lodging, or compensation from programs sponsored by private parties, provided that no conflict of interest arises in violation of Senate rules.  See Interpretative Ruling 385.

A participant that is paid by or accepts expenses that are primarily funded by a single company, individual, or industry may not work on issues related to the interest of the individual, company, or industry providing such funding.  Conflicts of interest and the appearance of conflicts between the participant’s duties to the Senate and his or her responsibilities to the private sponsor must be avoided. 

Required Filings

Form 41.3  (Agreement to Comply with the Senate Code of Official Conduct)

This form is for detailees only.  It is an agreement to comply with Senate Code of Official Conduct.  This agreement must be signed by the detailee and submitted to the Committee on Rules and Administration for their approval of detailed service with a copy of the signed form to the Ethics Committee.

Form 41.4  (Agreement to Comply with the Senate Code of Official Conduct)

If an intern, volunteer, or fellow performs full-time services for more than 90 days for the Senate (whether compensated by an outside source or not), the individual is required to agree in writing to comply with the Senate Code of Official Conduct. 

Form 41.6  (Supervisor’s Report on Individuals Who Perform Senate Services)

The supervising Senator or Officer of an intern or fellow who works for more than four weeks and receives compensation for those services from anyone other than the United States Government must publicly report the source and the amount of rate of compensation paid to the individual to the Office of Public Records when the person begins Senate service, and on a quarterly basis during the dates of service.

Financial Disclosure Report

A fellow or detailee working in the Senate for more than 60 days and paid at a rate equal to or in excess of 120% of GS–15 ($121,956 for CY 2015) by an outside entity is required to file a financial disclosure report pursuant to the Ethics in Government Act.  If an individual federal government employee, the individual should file a financial disclosure report with the Senate, in addition to the filing a report (if any) with their employing agency.

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Permissible Officially-Related Uses of Campaign Funds

Federal campaign finance laws and Senate Rule 38 provide that funds from a Senator’s principal campaign committee may be used to defray any certain ordinary and necessary expenses incurred in connection with the Senator’s duties as a federal officeholder.  “Personal use” of campaign funds is prohibited.   

Mailing Lists

Mailing lists from outside sources, including campaign or political organizations, may be purchased for fair market value with official funds (subject to the rules and regulations of the Committee on Rules and Administration), so long as the incorporation of the list complies with Senate Rule 40.5, that is, the list bears no identification of individuals as campaign worker, contributors, or as members of a political party and it does not contain any other partisan information. 

As a general matter, if an expense is deemed by a Senator to be related to official duties, then the expense may be paid with either (or a mixture of) Senate funds, the Senator’s personal funds, or excess funds of the Senator’s principal campaign committee.  Because principal campaign committee funds could be used to obtain the mailing lists from the campaign, it would be acceptable a Senate office to accept the list from the campaign free of charge.

Handheld Communication Devices

A Member may use campaign funds to purchase a handheld communication device (e.g., cell phone or BlackBerry) and its associated information technology services to be used by a Member, officer, or employee in connection with both official and campaign purposes, pursuant to Senate Rule 38 and Interpretative Ruling 444.  It is a violation of federal criminal law to use such devices for campaign purposes in Senate space.  See 18 U.S.C § 607.

Legal Expenses

With the prior written approval of the Committee, Members may use campaign funds to defend legal actions arising out of their campaign, election, or the performance of their official duties.  These funds remain campaign contributions, however, subject to all the restrictions and prohibitions on campaign contributions. 

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Prohibited Official Uses of Campaign Funds

Members may not use campaign funds to:

  • Supplement their franking or mass mailing allowance
  • Pay their employee salaries
  • Pay for office space
  • Buy office equipment and any associated information technology services
  • Support the home state office
  • Pay committee expenses
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Flag Requests

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 within the above two criteria, constituents must pay for the flags.

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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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Rule XXXVIII

Prohibition on Unofficial Office Accounts

1. (a)39 No Member may maintain or have maintained for his use an unofficial office account. The term ‘‘unofficial office account’’ means an account or repository into which funds are received for the purpose, at least in part, of defraying otherwise unreimbursed expenses allowable in connection with the operation of a Member’s office. An unofficial office account does not include, and expenses incurred by a Member in connection with his official duties shall be defrayed only from—

(1) personal funds of the Member;

(2) official funds specifically appropriated for that purpose;

(3) funds derived from a political committee (as defined in section 301(d) of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (2 U.S.C. 431)); and

(4) funds received as reasonable reimbursements for expenses incurred by a Member in connection with personal services provided by the Member to the organization making the reimbursement.

(b) Notwithstanding subparagraph (a), official expenses may be defrayed only as provided by subsections (d) and (i) of section 311 of the Legislative Appropriations Act, 1991 (Public Law 101–520).40

(c)41 For purposes of reimbursement under this rule, fair market value of a flight on an aircraft shall be determined as provided in paragraph 1(c)(1)(C) of rule XXXV.

2. No contribution (as defined in section 301(e) of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (2 U.S.C. 431)) shall be converted to the personal use of any Member or any former Member. For the purposes of this rule ‘‘personal use’’ does not include reimbursement of expenses incurred by a Member in connection with his official duties.

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39 Pursuant to S. Res. 192, 102–1, Oct. 31, 1991, paragraph 1 was renumbered 1(a) and subparagraph (b) was added. Effective date revised to May 1, 1992, by a provision of Pub. L. 102–229, Dec. 12, 1991. Provisions of 2 U.S.C. 431 are contained in the Senate Manual at Sec. 515, S. Doc. 107–1.

40 Section 311(d) of the Legislative Branch Appropriations Act, 1991, (2 U.S.C. 59e(d)), was amended by the Legislative Appropriations Act, 2002 (Pub. Law 107–68). 2 U.S.C. 59e—Senate Manual Sec. 302, S. Doc. 107–1.

41 Subparagraph (c) added pursuant to Pub. L. 110–81, Sep. 14, 2007.