For a U.S. senator with his or her eyes on the White House, the visibility and prestige the upper chamber affords isn't half-bad for a campaign.
But for the five sitting senators in the 2016 race, running for president also comes with some caveats. So far in the election, only Rand Paul appears to have broken an official rule—see No. 3 below—but any rule-breaking at all can risk discipline by the Senate Ethics Committee. The Senate Rules and Administration Committee crafts a detailed code of conduct—enshrined in the Senate Manual—that senators must abide by while campaigning, and Senate Ethics polices its fellow members for any possible ethical infringements.
We took a look at the rules senators should keep in mind as they fundraise and flaunt their credentials. (For a senator's how-to guide on running for president—complete with advice from Sen. John McCain and longtime campaign operatives—see here.) Note to lawmakers: This is the Cliff's Notes version of the official Senate guidelines. Use at your own risk.
1. No campaign activity at all in any Senate or federally owned buildings.
The important thing here—and, really, with all of these rules—is that there's a clear distinction between official Senate conduct and campaign conduct. Senators can't outright discuss on the floor why voters should support them in 2016, or hold court in the Carryout in an attempt to snag donations. Only very limited overlap is allowed: For example, if a reporter sneaks in a 2016-related question in a walk-and-talk interview about policy, the senator can answer it.
The larger Capitol grounds aren't free from restrictions either; senators can't solicit for donations anywhere in the Capitol's roughly 290 acres.
2. Don't use the trappings of your office to help your campaign.
Prohibited resources include but are not limited to: Senate equipment, buildings, and the time of your Hill staffers. But there are two exceptions to that last rule: Senate and campaign schedulers are allowed to coordinate with each other; and Senate press secretaries can respond to "occasional" or "incidental" campaign-related questions. They just can't give campaign-only interviews from inside their Hill offices.
3. Don't use any TV clips from your last floor speech in a campaign ad—no matter how rousing they may be.
In the words of the Senate Manual: "The use of any tape duplication of radio or television coverage of the proceedings of the Senate for political campaign purposes is strictly prohibited."
4. Senate staffers can't work for your campaign on the taxpayers' dime.
This doesn't mean they can't work for the campaign at all; it just means they have to do so on their own time—through volunteer work or as paid campaign employees. (And they definitely can't use Senate resources or space for campaign work.) If staffers, for example, choose to reduce their hours in the Senate in order to volunteer or officially work for a campaign, they have that flexibility, from the Ethics Committee's perspective. But they need to do at least one day's worth of work in the Hill office per week to retain their Senate employment, their Senate pay must be adjusted based on how many hours they spend on official business, and their Senate pay can't be inflated to compensate for their extracurricular work on a campaign.
5. Staffers can't contribute money, either.
It's a violation of federal law for Senate staffers to donate to their own boss's campaign. Contributing time as a volunteer or employee isn't considered a contribution.
6. Your campaign office can't be given any special privileges that outside organizations don't get.
A Senate Ethics Committee cheat sheet uses document requests as an example here: Senate staff can't turn over, say, a copy of a member's floor speech to his or her campaign staff if they wouldn't honor a similar request from another outside group or person, "without regard to political affiliation."
7. Don't link to your campaign website from your official Hill website—or vice versa.
Sorry, but those earnest voters examining the policy section of your website can't be directed to check out your campaign site. They just can't.
8. Beware campaign donations that inadvertently come through your office.
There are only three people employed in a senator's office, known as political fund designees, who are allowed to ask for and take in campaign donations—but not while using Senate resources, and "only for the Senator's principal campaign committee, a political campaign committee controlled by a Senator or group of Senators, or a state or local committee of a national party." If an unsolicited contribution is mailed or delivered in person to a senator's Hill office, it's got to be sent to the campaign within seven days by a political fund designee.
9. Don't be too liberal with the Clip Art.
Use of the Great Seal of the United States or the Senate Seal in campaign materials is strictly verboten. (So are, for that matter, the seals of the House, Congress, the president, and the vice president. And these rules don't just apply to campaign materials: No one, including laymen, can use these seals to create a "false impression of sponsorship or approval" by any part of the U.S. government.) The Ethics Committee does throw candidates a graphic-design bone, though, in its guidelines: "If a member's campaign wants to use a symbol of government on its campaign stationery, a depiction of the Capitol dome would be appropriate."
10. Campaign donations are off-limits for personal use.
Senators should really know this already. Campaign contributions can't be used to pay for any "commitment, obligation, or expense of a person that would exist irrespective of the candidate's election campaign or individual's duties as a holder of federal office," according to Senate rules. And if there was any doubt of the elite status many senators occupy, the guidelines specifically note that country club memberships can't be paid for by campaign donations.
11. Don't mass-mail voters just before an election.
With few exceptions, senators can't use their franking privileges—sending mail through the U.S. Postal Service without postage—to mass-mail voters in the 60 days leading up to a primary or general election, per Senate rules. One noteworthy loophole? If the election is uncontested. Then the lawmaker can mass-mail with abandon.
12. Don't use the Senate TV and radio studios immediately before an election.
For the most part, unless a licensed TV or radio organization requests your presence in the studios, or your election is uncontested, you can't use the Senate studios in the 60 days leading up to a primary or general.
And listen, senators, you can't all be winners. If you decide to forgo your Senate seat in the event of a loss, and you just happen to become a lobbyist, don't think the Senate will leave you ethically out in the rain. There are guidelines for lawmakers-turned-power-brokers, too.
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