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Sanders Presser May Flout Ethics Rules (Updated)

The Sanders Radio/TV Gallery press conference seems to skirt a fine line when it comes to Senate ethics rules. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
The Sanders Radio/TV Gallery press conference seems to skirt a fine line when it comes to Senate ethics rules. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 10:55 a.m. | Running for president is hard. But it’s even harder to do while balancing the ethics rules of your day job on Capitol Hill.  

It’s a lesson Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., is learning the day after he told The Associated Press he’s running for president in 2016 .  

Sanders was scheduled to hold a news conference Thursday at noon at the Senate Radio/TV gallery where he will “discuss his agenda for America.” By holding the event the day after he made his presidential hopes official, the vast majority of the questions at the event are likely to be about his campaign and national platform. And that walks a fine line of breaking Senate ethics rules, which prohibit campaigning of any kind in the Capitol complex.  

But about two hours before the presser was scheduled to start, Sanders’ office announced a location change. The event would be held outside the Capitol, in the Senate Swamp.  

From a rules standpoint, the move doesn’t change the murkiness surrounding Sanders’ expected announcement.  

The Senate Swamp can only be reserved by members of Congress  not public demonstrators, or candidates. Jason Botelho, media relations coordinator for the Senate Radio-TV Gallery said other locations on the Capitol grounds could be booked through the Capitol Police.  

“Official resources (Senate space, equipment, staff time, and supplies) should not be used to assist campaign organizations,” read the rules posted to the Senate Ethics Committee’s website .  

Sanders’ office said the news conference is not his official presidential announcement, and denied there is anything ethically murky about the event.  

“Some things you can do and certain things you can’t do and we’ve been told we can do this,” Sanders press aide Jeff Frank told CQ Roll Call.  

But one Senate aide said it’s a “well-known tenet” these things shouldn’t mix.  

“[M]oney must be used for the purpose for which it is appropriated. … Everything up here is paid for by official funds so all things we do must be official,” the aide said.  

The bottom line is the rules are strictly prescribed.  

Page 153 of the Ethics Manual concludes: “It is thus inappropriate to use any official resources to conduct campaign or political activities. The Committee on Ethics has long acknowledged that there may be some inadvertent and minimal overlap between the conduct of official Senate duties and campaign activities. However, a Senator has the responsibility to ensure that such an overlap is of a de minimis nature and that any campaign responsibilities do not conflict with or detract from official staff duties.”  

Only minor overlaps between the campaign and the Senate office are allowed, including scheduling, fielding press inquiries and providing materials, such as floor speeches, to the campaign.  

The three Republican Senators currently running for president — Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida — are also learning that balancing the chamber’s rules with a presidential campaign is a challenge.  

Paul’s first campaign video used a clip from a Fox News piece  that featured host Sean Hannity talking over footage of the senator on the floor during his 2013 filibuster . As CQ Roll Call has reported, such footage dances around Senate Ethics Committee rules , which prohibit the use of floor footage in campaign advertising.  

And all three are balancing the need to fundraise the millions needed for a nationwide campaign with a Senate schedule. Members of Congress are not allowed to host fundraisers or make fundraising calls from the Capitol grounds.  

Cruz received backlash for skipping the vote  last week on now-Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s confirmation to catch a flight to a fundraiser in Texas.  

And Rubio has caught flak for his attendance record — missing 21 percent of Senate votes this year . This week he missed two votes while hosting private fundraisers in San Francisco and Los Angeles .  

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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