Pelosi might have skirted House ethics rules on campaign solicitations

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) might have briefly run afoul of congressional ethics rules at a Capitol press conference on Thursday when she made a statement that could be construed as a solicitation for campaign contributions.

The Democratic leader was holding a briefing to promote a campaign finance disclosure bill when she said she was “asking people to contribute to us, if they want to elect more reformers to Congress.”

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House ethics rules prohibit members of Congress from soliciting campaign donations in House office buildings, including the Capitol Visitor Center, where Pelosi was speaking. A section of the U.S. criminal code also prohibits fund-raising in federal buildings.

The former Speaker was asked about President Obama’s decision to encourage donations to a super-PAC supporting his reelection and whether super-PACs supporting both the president and House Democrats should voluntarily disclose donations.

“Absolutely. Absolutely,” Pelosi replied. “The president made a decision, which I think was a wise one, that he was not going to unilaterally leave the field to the Koch brothers to decide who would be president of the United States and who would control the Congress. And his commitment was for full disclosure.

“And that’s why — we were scheduled to do this weekend but the timing could not be better,” she continued. “Because it affords us the opportunity to say to you that the Democrats in their fundraising will be fully disclosing. And, by the way, we’re asking people to contribute to us, if they want to elect more reformers to Congress. So that we can do away with super-PACs, that we can do away with secret contributions, we can reform the system, we can amend the Constitution, to overturn the Citizens United decision.”

A Pelosi spokesman, Drew Hammill, said her statement was describing her pitch to supporters, and was not an actual solicitation for donations.

"The comment was very clearly referring to our efforts to disclose, reform and amend,” Hammill said. “Reporters have repeatedly asked [Pelosi] how to square fundraising and reform policy, so that's why she said we have to raise money to elect more reformers. That is her pitch to supporters.”

Hammill, arguing that it was not a direct solicitation, also pointed out that Pelosi later referenced "pitch" she was making to supporters.

"And, as I said, our pitch is support us if you want to elect reformers to do away with these PACs."

Craig Holman, an advocate for campaign finance reform at Public Citizen, said Pelosi’s statement approached the ethical boundary but probably did not cross it.

“It sounds to me like a policy statement rather than a fundraising pitch,” Holman said. “I would not consider that a violation of the ethics rules, but it does get a little close.”

This story was updated at 5:37 p.m.