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Are Lobbyists Banned From House and Senate Gyms? | A Question of Ethics

A walking machine at the House Fitness Center. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)
A walking machine at the House Fitness Center. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Q. I am a former officer of the House now working as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. I love my job, but sometimes wonder if we lobbyists are unfairly singled out and discriminated against. One example I recently learned about is that former members and officers who become lobbyists are apparently not allowed to use House exercise facilities, while other former members and officers are. Is this really true?
A. Lobbyists do get a bad rap, don’t they? At the federal level, many laws impose restrictions that apply to lobbyists but not to anyone else. And, in states, it can be even worse, where “lobbyist” can verge on being a bad word. Some states even require lobbyists to wear the virtual equivalent of a scarlet “L” whenever they are engaged in lobbying. Connecticut, for example, requires anyone engaged in lobbying to wear a badge identifying themselves as a lobbyist, with the “color, material, and other requirements of such badge … prescribed by regulation.” In 2011, a lobbyist was fined $10,000 for lobbying without a badge.  

So, what about House exercise facilities? Again, there is a distinction between lobbyists and everyone else.  

As you may recall from your time in the House, House exercise facilities are made available to members and staffers for an annual fee. These facilities have made the news more than once in recent years. In 2010, for example, then-Rep. Eric Massa claimed that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel yelled at him about an upcoming House vote while both were naked in a House gym shower. In 2011, Rep. Anthony Weiner tweeted now infamous photographs of himself taken in a House gym locker room. And in 2013, the House was criticized when, at least initially, it kept the gym open during a federal government shutdown.  

Your question concerns the use of House exercise facilities by former members and staffers. When members and officers leave the House, they retain certain privileges and courtesies by virtue of their former service in the House. For example, former members have floor privileges, entitling them to admission to the Hall of the House.  

Similarly, former members and officers may, for a fee, use House exercise facilities. However, neither floor privileges nor access to House exercise facilities extends to registered lobbyists, even if they are former members or officers. A House resolution provides: “The House of Representatives may not provide access to any exercise facility which is made available exclusively to Members and former Members, officers and former officers of the House of Representatives, and their spouses to any former Member, former officer, or spouse who is a lobbyist registered under the Lobbying Disclosure Act.”  

The House first passed this ban in 2006, for the 109th Congress. In the wake of several headline-grabbing government corruption scandals, Congress faced pressure to enact ethics reforms. The House passed a resolution providing that registered lobbyists may have neither House floor privileges nor access to House exercise facilities, even if they are former members or officers of the House. Every Congress since then has passed a resolution keeping these bans in place.  

Of course, even in 2006, not everyone was on board with the change. Some disputed the notion that lobbying was a regular occurrence in the House gym, where House employees went to exercise, not to be lobbied. Others argued that the ban attempted to solve a problem that didn’t exist, as few members-turned-lobbyists took advantage of their access to House exercise facilities. And, still others observed the oddity that, under the ban, the gym would be available to former members and officers who had committed a crime, but not to those that had become lobbyists.  

Still, what many described as a “symbolic” measure passed easily, by a 379-50 vote. Therefore, you are correct that, as a lobbyist, you may not have access to House exercise facilities.  

Incidentally, there is a similar ban for Senate gyms, too, though not everyone has seen the reason for that ban either. In 2006, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., described his own gym experience amid news the House was banning lobbyists. “I’ve been going to the gym for 24 years, and I’ve never been lobbied in the gym,” Reid said at the time. “Of course, I’m pretty ugly naked. So maybe that’s why.”  

C. Simon Davidson is an attorney with the law firm McGuireWoods. Submit questions to Questions do not create an attorney-client relationship. Readers should not treat his column as legal advice.


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