Congressional Accountability Project
1611 Connecticut Ave. NW Suite #3A
Washington, DC 20009
(202) 296-2787
fax (202) 833-2406

March 8, 1999

Speaker Dennis Hastert
Chairman David Dreier
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Speaker Hastert and Chairman Dreier:

We request that the House Committee on Rules, and the full House of Representatives, swiftly remedy a failure in the recodification of House Rules, which exempts the vast majority of House employees -- those earning less than $89,728 -- from all restrictions on accepting gifts contained in the House gift rule.

This new exemption, whether due to botched drafting or on purpose, arises from a new definition of House employee in the gift rule. The exemption permits most House staff, under House Rules, to accept gifts of unlimited size from any person, including lobbyists.

Under the Rules of the House of Representatives for the 106th Congress, the gift rule, recodified in House Rule XXVI, contains this definition of House employee:

The GS-15 rate of basic pay is now $74,773, and 120 percent of that pay level is $89,728, which is the new House staff gift rule threshold. Consequently, House staff earning less than $89,728 are now exempted from the House gift rule. This is a major new loophole.

In the 105th Congress, the old House gift rule (Rule 51) covered all House employees. The old gift rule simply stated that:

Robert Walker, chief counsel to the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, argues that all House employees are still covered by the gift rule: "It's clear from the legislative history and record surrounding recodification that no substantive changes were intended through recodification."(3) Such reassurances, though welcome, are entirely unpersuasive, given the plain language of the new gift rule.

Irrespective of whether the new gift rule loophole was inserted by design, or is a drafting error, it needs to be fixed -- quickly -- to safeguard the legislative process from lobbyists and other influence-seekers who might wish to shower House staff with lavish gifts, hoping to affect the course of legislation.

Sincerely,
 

Gary Ruskin
Director


ENDNOTES

1. House Rule 26, cl. 4(a)(1).

2. Old House Rule 51, cl. 1(a).

3. Damon Chappie, "Glitch in Rule May Require Clarification." Roll Call, 8 March 1999.