Heard on the Hill: A Question of Ethics

Posted March 18, 2011 at 5:43pm

The sign welcoming visitors to the office of Rep. Dan Benishek has raised some eyebrows, and it also raises ethical questions.

The banner — which reads “Welcome/‘If you are here to ask for more money, you’re in the wrong office!’ Congressman Dan Benishek M.D.” — was paid for by the Michigan Republican’s staff, a potential no-no when it comes to House ethics rules.

“We all pitched in and bought the banner for him,” Benishek spokesman Kyle Bonini says.

But according to the House Ethics Manual, Members and senior aides are typically prohibited from accepting gifts from subordinates.

“While the [Ethics] Committee has recognized common-sense exceptions for voluntary gifts on special occasions, as a general rule, Members may not accept things of value from their staff members, and higher level staff members may not accept things of value from those who work for them,” it states.

Bonini did not respond to questions about the banner’s cost or whether the office had received advice from the House Ethics Committee.

According to a tipster familiar with the House ethics process, such a scenario likely goes against the chamber’s rules, although it would not amount to a major violation.

In an article on the website OneNewsNow.com, Benishek said he suggested such a sign.

“I mentioned something to the staff that we should just say, ‘If you’re here to ask for more money, you’re in the wrong place’ — and they pitched in and bought a banner to put up,” he said.