Ellison Accused of Violating Congressional Rules in Bid for Leadership Role

Lines between personal and professional Twitter account blurred

Rep. Keith Ellison / AP
December 2, 2016

Rep. Keith Ellison (D., Minn.) may be violating congressional rules barring lawmakers from using their social media accounts to promote their bids for party leadership positions, such as chair of the Democratic National Committee, which Ellison is currently vying for.

Ellison has been using his verified Twitter account to campaign for DNC chair, which sources argue is in violation of rules stating that official accounts cannot be used for campaign purposes.

Ellison's office maintains that the lawmaker used his personal account to send these tweets and does not maintain an official presence on Twitter. However, Ellison's account links to his official congressional website, and the campaign tweets have been embedded on the official site, blurring the lines between the lawmaker's official and personal social media worlds.

Congressional insiders told the Washington Free Beacon that Ellison's tweets represent a "clear-cut violation of House rules" governing social media use.

"This is a pretty clear-cut violation of House rules. He's using his official Twitter account to promote his bid for a political leadership position on a website that solicits donations and is paid for by his campaign," said one source apprised on the matter. "I suppose it's only appropriate that the leading candidate to run a corrupt organization like the DNC is wrongly using taxpayer dollars to fund his candidacy."

One tweet by Ellison contains a direct link to the lawmaker's DNC campaign page, which includes a solicitation for campaign contributions.

The Member's Congressional Handbook, authored by the Committee on House Administration, states that members may not use their official online presence to campaign for a particular political post or disseminate campaign information.

A subsequent Congressional Research Service report affirmed that campaigning using official social media accounts is strictly prohibited.

"Official websites (and thus social media accounts) may not be used for campaign or personal purposes; may not generate, circulate, or otherwise encourage petitions; may not include advertisements or any private person or entity or imply government endorsement of a product or service; may not include grassroots lobbying; and must be in compliance with federal law and House rules and regulations applicable to official communications," the report stated.

The report further maintains that lawmakers are freely permitted to operate social media accounts for personal purposes.

"Members are free to maintain non-official social media accounts, such as campaign or personal accounts," the report states. "Such accounts are not subject to House rules or regulations regarding official social media accounts. These non-official accounts may not utilize official resources.8 Likewise, the Members’ Congressional Handbook also provides that non-official resources such as campaign funds may not be used to pay for official social media accounts."

Many representatives, such as Paul Ryan and Nancy Pelosi maintain separate Twitter accounts for campaign use and personal or professional use.

A representative answering the phone in Ellison's Capitol Hill office told the Free Beacon that she "ethically cannot discuss" the DNC chair bid due to rules preventing official offices being used for campaign purposes.

When informed that this was the issue the Free Beacon was inquiring about, the employee referred the reporter to Ellison's press staff, who maintained that no rules were being violated because Ellison uses the Twitter feed in a personal, rather than official, capacity.

A message left at Ellison's campaign headquarters was not returned by press time.

A request for comment to the House Administrative Committee also went unanswered by press time.

Published under: DNC , Keith Ellison