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As Campaigns Heat Up, Candidates Mind Senate Rules

Paul's campaign video raised questions about a Senate rule governing floor footage. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Paul's campaign video raised questions about a Senate rule governing floor footage. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Juggling a grueling campaign schedule and work as a U.S. senator can be a daunting task for the ones running for president, but as election season picks up, they’ll also have to be mindful of the Senate rules for campaigning.  

For example, speaking on the prestigious Senate floor about policies affecting the nation would be prime fodder for a campaign video, but the candidates are not allowed to use floor footage in videos — or are they? The standing rules of the Senate state, “The use of any tape duplication of radio or television coverage of the proceedings of the Senate for political campaign purposes is strictly prohibited.”  

A recent TIME article raised the question of whether Sen. Rand Paul’s inaugural campaign video violated that rule. In the video titled “A Different Kind of Republican Leader,” the Kentucky Republican used a clip from a Fox News segment with host Sean Hannity speaking over footage of Paul on the Senate floor during his 2013 filibuster . The video exposed a potential gray area of the rule: whether a candidate can use floor footage from a news package in a campaign video.  

For Senate Rules and Administration Chairman Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Paul’s video does not appear to be a violation.  

“I think the rule is fairly clear and on the current question, I think, is he didn’t get it from the government; he got it off a news show,” Blunt told CQ Roll Call. Asked if the footage could be used in the video, Blunt responded, “We may have to look at whether that needs to be clarified or not, but I think he’s within the rule.”  

According to a Senate Rules aide, if there is a violation of a rule in terms of campaigning, the Rules Committee will typically make an informal request, likely a phone call, for the senator to address the violation. Senators often comply with the request, but if the senator refuses to address the violation, the party in charge of the Rules Committee determines the next step. However, there is no codified enforcement mechanism for violating this type of Senate rule.  

The Senate Ethics Committee also handles campaign rules violations, though there is sometimes overlap between the two committees. The Ethics Committee typically deals with an issue pertaining to violating U.S. Code, instead of just Senate rules, which is often related to campaign finance or using one’s official office for campaigning.  

A look at the Ethics Committee’s reference guide for campaign rules highlights some key areas of confusion when it comes to campaign rules. For example, a senator’s official website cannot link to any campaign websites.  

And it’s not just candidates who have to mind the rules. There are also a number of regulations regarding how staffers can engage in their bosses’ campaigns. Federal law stipulates a Senate employee cannot contribute to his or her employer’s campaign. Senate staffers can campaign for their bosses, as long as they don’t use Senate offices or official resources to do so.  

The high-profile campaigns could also lead to staffers fielding calls and donations sent to Senate offices instead of a senator’s campaign committee.  

The Senate Ethics Committee outlines the regulations governing those situations, noting, for instance, that a donation received at a congressional office must be sent to the campaign within a week.  

As the number of senators currently running for president — Paul, Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas — is expected to growth with the likes of Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., members and staff might find themselves double-checking the rule book.  

The 114th: CQ Roll Call’s Guide to the New Congress

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