What makes a man a man? A friend of mine once asked. It's the choices he makes. Not how he starts things, but how he finishes them.
Sali's Shell Game
Recently the Idaho Press Tribune questioned the ethics of Congressman Bill Sali and his reelection campaign. The editorial board stated "the dual employ of Hoffman as an official spokesman for Sali's congressional office and his campaign spokesman is unusual and inappropriate. Hoffman says he can keep his job separate by using different phones and stepping out of the congressman's office to deal with campaign related calls." They quite properly labeled this a "shell game."
"Official 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 laws and rules referenced in this section reflect 'the basic principle that government funds should not be spent to help incumbents to gain reelection.'"
In addition the House Ethics Manual specifically addresses the job of the press secretary in a congressional office:
"The press secretary in the congressional office may answer occasional questions on political matters, and may also respond to such questions that are merely incidental to an interview focused on the Member's official activity. However, while in the congressional office, the press secretary should not give an interview that is substantially devoted to the campaign, or initiate any call that is campaign related. A press secretary wishing to do either of those things should do so outside of the congressional office, and on his or her own time"
The manual goes on to state that "Once house employees have completed their official duties, they are free to engage in campaign activities on their own time, as volunteers or for pay, as long as they do not do so in congressional offices or facilities, or otherwise use official resources."
"What constitutes a staff member's 'own time' is determined by the personnel policies that are in place in the employing office. Time that is available to a staff member, under those policies, to engage in personal or other outside activities may instead be used to do campaign work, if the individual so chooses. The free time may include, for example, a lunch period, time after the end of the business day, and annual leave. However, a member may not adjust the work requirements of the congressional office, or add unpaid interns during the campaign, in order to create more 'free' time for staff to do campaign work. To help ensure compliance with the rules, office policies on employee leave and other free time should be in writing and distributed to all employees."
But campaigning is a first amendment right which is regulated for government employees under the Hatch Act. The manual suggests that employees wishing to devote time to a campaign may voluntarily reduce their employment in their congressional office to a part-time status with a corresponding reduction in salary or going on leave without pay. The ethics manual cautions employees who do campaign work while remaining on the house payroll that they keep careful records of the time they spend on official activities and, separately, on campaign activities, and demonstrate that the campaign work was not done on official time.
The ethical tightrope walked by Bill Sali's official congressional spokesperson Wayne Hoffman should come as no surprise. Last year the Mountain Goat Report disclosed that a right wing blogging website known as the Idahoan was actually owned by a company in which Wayne Hoffman was a principal. Since Hoffman was a congressional staffer it was proper to inquire if he ran the site while on Sali time. Since the Mountain Goat's disclosure there were no further postings by anyone at that site and it is now gone from the tubes. In addition the Boise Weekly chronicled the fine ethical line Wayne Hoffman stepped over repeatedly while in the employ as spokesman of the State Department of Agriculture yet simultaneously running the campaigns of Bill Sali and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna.
Thus, no further surprise upon the announcement today that Bill Sali has opened a campaign office in the same building he holds his congressional office, both of which are outside of District 1. Having a campaign office in the same building as the congressional office will give Mr. Hoffman the cover he needs play Sali's "shell game". In so doing they are making a mockery of the rules of ethics applicable to House Members and their employees. Whatever "free" time Hoffman is using is likely being compensated by the campaign. But maybe its not directly compensated. Maybe Hoffman's just using his "free" time to work hard to assure his boss's, and therefor his own, future employment. The manual has very specific rules for doing so however.
The question for taxpayers in the 1st District is whether they being ably represented. Their taxpayer dollars go to pay the salary of a congressional press secretary whose office isn't even in the district. Can Sali's official spokesman fulfill his obligations to the taxpayer while doing the Texas two step in and out of offices? Given the myriad missteps the campaign has suffered, one wonders how ably these constituents are being served by the same guy in the Congressional office. And are they playing with fire, toying with a potential scandal maker, whose effectiveness in Congress can hardly get lower? And do Republicans in this state really want another one of their own bringing even more disrepute home to Idaho?