Blog — House Ethics Committee

May 21, 2010

Roll Call asks: Is it unethical for a member to have an affair with a staffer?

By CREW Staff

In the wake of the scandal involving Rep. Mark Souder's affair with one of his Congressional staffers, Roll Call examined whether such action constituted an ethics violation. While it's not in the ethics rules explicitly, there is a standard of behavior that's expected:

Congressional ethics experts say that while the rules do not explicitly prohibit sleeping with a staff member, there are plenty of provisions in the rules that would allow someone in Souder’s position to be punished.

For starters, all Members and employees are required to live by the code of conduct spelled out in the House rules, which begins with the mandate that “A Member, Delegate, Resident Commissioner, officer, or employee of the House shall conduct himself at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House.”

Several former ethics committee staffers said this edict alone would have been enough to doom Souder because, clearly, a married Member carrying on an affair with a married employee does not “reflect creditably on the House.”

But the House Ethics Manual also points out that prior Congresses have interpreted that rule to focus on “official, rather than personal, conduct.”

Now, of course, the Ethics Committee would actually have to enforce the ethics rules laid out in the manual for it to really matter.

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