Jared Polis’ recent attendance at a campaign fundraiser for fellow Congressman Raúl Grijalva could have danced close to ethical boundaries, if not in fact crossing them.
A flier for the fundraiser mentioned Polis’ attendance, and also said:
Reception to Include Discussion of Indian Energy Legislation
Additions to H.R. 328, the American Indian Empowerment Act of 2015
Preventing the Treatment of Indian Lands Like Public Lands
Further down on the flier is where things get slightly more problematic when it states, “Contribute by Check or Online.”
According to page 150 of the current House ethics manual, “[N]o solicitation of a campaign or political contribution may be linked to any action taken or to be taken by a Member or employee in his or her official capacity.”
The issue then becomes how closely the discussion of the bill was linked to contributions.
Kate Siegel, National Finance Director for Mr. Polis, told Complete Colorado by email, “I’ve never seen that [flier invitation] that you attached. The invite that we approved for that event, though similar layout, said nothing about a piece of legislation (in compliance with ethics rules). I’m guessing the law firm that hosted the fundraiser changed it without telling us.”
Without admitting to any violation, Siegel’s answer seems to acknowledge the possibility of an ethical problem with the flier we presented her.
Ken Boehm, Chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center provided an even handed view of the scope of any potential ethical problem:
For there to be an actionable criminal case, there should be a much stronger linkage that (sic) what appears on the invitation.
Even a House Rules case would probably require something much stronger, starting with a statement as to what official actions had already been taken or were about to be taken.
Having said that, we don’t know what was said at the event. It is possible the line was crossed but we do not have any evidence of that.
As a practical matter, most Members are careful to avoid going up to the line and rarely mention specific legislation in an invitation to a fund raiser.
The strongest criticism that can be made is to state that House rules forbid linking solicitation of political donations to the official actions of Members of Congress doing the soliciting.
Fund raising invitations citing specific legislation appear inappropriate and if the linkage was further amplified in the fund raising pitch at the event, there is an arguable violation of the spirit – if not the letter – of the House ethics rules.
Grijalva made national waves earlier this year when he sought to investigate funding for university scientists who are thought to be outside the current orthodoxy of climate change science.
Since the date of the fundraiser, no action has been taken on H.R. 328.
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