Must Committee Websites Be Fair and Balanced?

An article this week by Fortune senior editor Stephen Gandel questions whether certain House committee websites, particularly that of the Financial Services Committee, comply with rules and regulations established by the Committee on House Administration. These provide that committee websites may not:

  1. Include personal, political, or campaign information.
  2. Be directly linked or refer to Web sites created or operated by campaign or any campaign related entity, including political parties and campaign committees.
  3. Include grassroots lobbying or solicit support for a Member’s position.
  4. Generate, circulate, solicit or encourage signing petitions.
  5. Include any advertisement for any private individual, firm, or corporation, or imply in any manner that the Government       endorses or favors any specific commercial product, commodity, or service.

Gandel’s primary concern is that much of the Financial Services website is “dedicated to just how bad the [Dodd-Frank act] is.” He suggests this violates the rules that “websites can’t contain political information or solicit support for a member’s position.”

I think Gandel misunderstands the meaning of the term “political” as used in these rules. The House Ethics Manual provides that “[o]fficial resources of the House must, as a general rule, be used for the performance of official business of the House, and hence those resources may not be used for campaign or political purposes.” The phrase “campaign or political” is a term of art referring to election or campaign-related business, as opposed to the official business of the House.

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