The House Ethics Committee has unanimously voted to dismiss allegations that Rep. Jared Polis’s participation in a short video produced by a video-game publisher and in an event involving a menswear company violated the chamber’s rules.
In October, the Office of Congressional Ethics Board voted 4 to 2 to refer the matter to the panel, meaning the House’s nonpartisan, investigative arm found substantial reason to believe a violation could have occurred. On Friday, the House Ethics Committee cleared the Colorado Democrat, and on Monday released a 10-page report explaining the allegations and the panel’s dismissal.
“While it does appear that both the Riot Games video and the Ninox clothing event were intended, at least in part, to promote the businesses, this is true in virtually every instance in which a business participates in or arranges an event with a Member,” the report states. “Further, the video and clothing event also had clear and substantial non-commercial, representational, purposes.”
Polis was featured in a four-minute, 20-second video produced and distributed by Riot Games, which develops “League of Legends” (a free online game where users can buy extra enhancements to the game while playing). Polis is a “self-described ‘gamer,’” and a “League of Legends” player, the panel’s report states.
The goal of the video wasn’t to advertise, the Riot Games brand manager told OCE, but rather “to have a positive impact on perceptions of the game within the League of Legends community,” the report notes. The video-game publisher had created a series of videos featuring players with various backgrounds, such as a chef who makes video-game-themed food. And Polis was chosen for the video, according to the report, because he is known among other “League of Legends” players and has also actively opposed two pieces of legislation—the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act—and participated in a forum to tell the game’s players about the legislation in 2012.
OCE found there was substantial reason to believe that the congressman’s actions could be perceived as an endorsement. Polis let Riot Games film him in his congressional office and around the Capitol, and OCE found there was substantial reason to believe he violated the rules against using official resources to promote a business, the committee’s report states.
Yet the Ethics Committee report found that “Representative Polis did not view the video as endorsing a product because he did not tell people to play the game or to buy anything. Instead, to the extent Representative Polis discussed his love of the game, he viewed those comments as biographical and compared them to telling a reporter he is a Colorado Rockies fan.”
On Feb. 28, 2014, GQ Magazine ran a story saying Polis had the “worst Congressional style ever” and asked him to let them help him. More than a year later, Ninox, a men’s clothing designer and retail store in the congressman’s congressional district, reached out to Polis proposing he try on some of the store’s clothes because GQ hadn’t followed up and it might be a “fun way to get some press,” the initial request says.
Polis participated in the makeover in a park in Boulder, Colorado on June 30; his staff, Ninox, and the press took photos of the event. Polis bought full-priced clothes with his own money, according to the report.
A photograph of Polis wearing sunglasses was called the “$89 Polis Special” on Ninox’s Facebook page and was part of an email promoting the sale. Polis asked Ninox to remove the Facebook post, and the company did, the report states.
OCE noted that “neither Representative Polis nor members of his congressional staff made any effort to address the potential use of photographs from the makeover event by Ninox for commercial purposes,” according to the report.
Polis’s communications director told OCE that she didn’t think Ninox was publishing the makeover. “Neither Representative Polis nor his congressional staff was aware that Ninox used his image and name for the ‘Polis Special’ until well after the sale ended,” the report states. “When Representative Polis became aware, he asked Ninox to remove the post on Facebook. Ninox complied with his request.”
In an emailed statement, Polis said he was glad the panel unanimously dismissed the matter. “The activities—an interview I did for a website popular with gamers and a tongue-in-cheek press event lampooning my infamous fashion sense—reflect my ongoing efforts to creatively reach constituents where they are in a relevant manner.”