Jonathan Stein, with Mother Jones‘ D.C. Bureau, has written “Cleaning House,” a fascinating article about the process of moving newly-elected members of the House of Representatives in while moving those defeated and otherwise retiring members out of their congressional offices. Both groups use the same 3,900-square-foot basement suite in the Rayburn House Office Building during the transition, with the new members setting up temporary shop there for several weeks until they get access to their official office. Afterward, the outgoing members use the suite as a “basement purgatory” where they transition out of power into private life.
The really interesting aspect of Stein’s article, from Sunlight’s point of view, is that he reports that the strict rules (PDF) on gift giving and lobbying that apply to sitting members don’t cover members-elect. The fact that these incoming freshmen receive numerous invitations to parties and luncheons held by fellow lawmakers, special interest groups, and lobbyists opens up a big loophole in the ethics rules.
During an orientation session on congressional ethics in 2006, a Hill staffer who managed the transition for a newly elected Democrat recalls the trainer joked to the freshmen members, “Now is the time to get any expensive gifts out of the way.” The staffer provided a schedule of the orientation period, during which his boss was invited to eight receptions and four meals in the span of five days. “I took home a bottle of wine, a white chocolate Capitol Dome filled with chocolate nougat, and a tote bag,” the staffer says. The new lawmaker got the wine plus a fruit basket.
Sounds less like cleaning house and more like cleaning up.
If you have any invitations to such events for newly elected Freshman, please pass them along. We’ll post them at Party Time.