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Two Members Appear to Break Rules on First Day of New Congress

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Two House Republican members, Reps. Mike Fitzpatrick and Pete Sessions, missed their swearing in on Wednesday as they attended a fundraiser in Fitzpatrick's honor at the U.S. Capitol. These two not-quite-yet Congressmen then voted on legislation and introduced bills, adding a Dadaist element to the proceedings. Although astonishingly surreal, there’s a serious House Rules-related concern: lawmakers are barred from using official resources for campaign or fundraising activities.

"House rooms and offices are not to be used for events that are campaign or political in nature, such as a meeting on campaign strategy, or a reception for campaign contributors," according to the House Ethics Manual.

The Ethics Manual identifies an exception -- "when a Member is sworn in, the Member may hold a 'swearing-in' reception in a House office building that is paid for with campaign funds" -- but the event was a fundraiser, not merely a simple “swearing-in” ceremony.

A spokesman for Fitzpatrick told the Huffington Post's Ryan Grim that the event was not a fundraiser and that anyone could attend. The information available shows that the invite was a solicitation for campaign funds and was very different from other lawmaker invites for celebrations held in official House offices and buildings.

The invite says that it is an invitation to "Mike's Swearing In Celebration" and asks for at least $30 per person. The money appears to be for the bus trip to DC and entry to the celebration. The money, of course, goes to Rep. Fitzpatrick’s campaign account, is accompanied by a FEC disclaimer, and is solicited in whatever amount the donor chooses to give--contributors could select amounts ranging from $30 to $120 or more.

Other lawmakers held celebrations on Capitol Hill that did not include solicitations for money in their invitations. Dan Boren, Sean Duffy, Bill Huizenga, Reid Ribble, and Roy Blunt all held swearing in receptions in congressional offices that did not include an ask for campaign contributions. Blunt also held an event at the Library of Congress that did not solicit money.

The problem of holding events in the U.S. Capitol (i.e., the Capitol Visitors Center) for political or campaign activities is explained in the House Ethics Manual: they “are supported with official funds and hence are considered official resources."

While Fitzpatrick appears to have violated House ethics rules, Sessions deserves special attention for reserving the room for Fitzpatrick. This may not violate any rules, but as a member of the Rules Committee, he should know better! Of course, he shouldn’t have voted before he was sworn in, either.

The Office of Congressional Ethics and the House Ethics Committee should determine whether or not this type of activity is in violation of the House Ethics rules. From this end, it appears as though this fundraiser was not in meeting with the rules as laid out in the manual.