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July 1, 2016

House Democrats ‘Sit-in’ Fund-Raising Draws Ethics Complaint


credit: House Television via AP

When U.S. House Democrats staged their recent and much publicized “sit-in” in the well of the House, they said theirs was an effort to force a debate and vote on gun-related legislation important to improve public safety. But if this indeed was the Democrats’ purpose after the truly tragic nightclub attack in Orlando, you would think they would refrain from using the event in real time to solicit donations to benefit their own campaign funds.   Alas, they showed no such restraint.

But their action is not going unchallenged.

The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT) has filed an official ethics complaint against the Democrats for sending out fundraising emails using images of the “sit-in.” In a letter to the office of Congressional ethics, FACT stated “Of all the ethics rules governing our elected officials, the rule violated in this case is of special significance as it ensures Members act in good faith and on merit and not for personal gain. Put simply, violations of this rule threaten the underpinnings of the public trust and must be investigated.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan earlier had questioned the Democrats’ actions asking, “If this is not a political stunt, then why are they trying to raise money off of it?” Campaign fundraising should never be associated with any specific action taken in Congress and the Democrats know this and should be embarrassed.

Nine-term U.S. Rep. John Larson, D-Conn, who serves in the Democratic leadership and sits on the House Ethics Committee, was asked by the Hartford Courant if his Democratic colleagues should have conducted this fund raising.  His response:  “I don’t think they should have.”  Mind you, he was there, but at least he can see that his colleagues overreached and seemed to forget some important rules.

The powerless stage sit-ins because they have few alternatives. Members of the U.S. House of Representatives are elected. They are in power. They are the elite.

So, Speaker Ryan is correct. What the Democrats did was a stunt. Even if in the minority, members have procedures they can use to bring forward measures they think deserve a vote. But that hard work would not have received the attention they wanted and it also doesn’t play well on Snapchat and Periscope — or in fund raising.