June 27, 2016, 05:45 pm
House Democrats hit with ethics complaint over sit-in

By Cristina Marcos

A conservative-leaning ethics watchdog group filed an ethics complaint on Monday against House Democrats who participated in last week’s sit-in to push for votes on gun legislation.

The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics calling for an investigation into multiple Democrats fundraising over the sit-in and using official resources for political purposes.

The group pointed to fundraising emails from House Democrats’ campaign arm, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, soliciting campaign donations during the sit-in. The email signed by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) implored supporters: “The Republicans refuse to lift a finger. It’s shameful. I need your help to defeat them once and for all.”Another email sent by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) asked supporters to sign a petition in support of the sit-in and included a photo of the House floor.

House ethics rules state that lawmakers cannot use official resources — including locations in the Capitol complex — for campaign or political activities. Campaign ads, for instance, cannot be filmed or photographed in congressional offices.

“Not only do these email solicitations tied directly to official acts reflect poorly on the House of Representatives, the emails are directly contrary to the purposes and prohibitions of the Ethics Rules,” Matthew Whitaker, the group’s executive director, wrote.

“This type of behavior is precisely why the public distrusts elected officials,” Whitaker added.

Multiple Democrats, including Reps. Scott Peters (Calif.), Eric Swalwell (Calif.) and Beto O’Rourke (Texas), live-streamed the sit-in on their phones because the official House cameras were shut off during the protest.

House rules prohibit anyone from taking videos or photographs on the floor. But lawmakers of both parties often flout the rules, particularly during events like the State of the Union or an address from a foreign leader.

While taking photographs in the chamber can result in severe punishment for people like staff or reporters, lawmakers usually don’t try to hide that they’re ignoring the rules. Many have posted photos of the House floor on Twitter without any consequence.

The House sergeant-at-arms repeatedly told lawmakers to turn off their cameras during the sit-in, but they ignored the warnings throughout the nearly 26-hour protest.

Some Republicans are calling for the Democrats who violated House rules to face punishment. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) hasn't ruled out doling out consequences for lawmakers involved in the effort that held up almost all of last week's originally scheduled proceedings.

“We're reviewing everything right now,” Ryan told reporters at a Capitol news conference.

To which Democrats say: Bring it on.

“They want to pick this fight and say the American people shouldn't hear this stuff, that we're like the Politburo, the Chinese communist party?” Peters said in an interview with The Hill. “If you want people to calm down, there's a better way than fighting a stupid battle over rules.”