Politics

Ethics Committee Drops Ben Ray Luján Sit-In Inquiry

Panels Democrats who used phones on floor need ‘additional guidance’

New Mexico Rep. Ben Ray Luján joined his fellow Democrats during a House floor sit-in last June to protest GOP inaction on gun control legislation. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The House Ethics Committee cleared Democratic Rep. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico of violating chamber rules by sending campaign-related emails during a sit-in on the House floor last June because the panel concluded members need “additional guidance” when it came to the use of electronic devices in the chamber.

While an inquiry by the Office of Congressional Ethics found there was reason to believe Luján, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, may have conducted campaign activity and asked the Ethics panel to take up the matter, the independent OCE also acknowledged that its review “raised difficult questions about the application of House rules to solicitations via email.”

At issue was an email Luján sent to a campaign volunteer on the day of the sit-in with a request to “get something out there.” The email the congressman forwarded to the volunteer was another email sent by the campaign of fellow New Mexico Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham that urged people to sign a petition while the member was protesting on the House floor.

The committee said there was no proof Luján was actually on the House floor or in a federal building when the email was sent because, like many other members, he had walked on and off the floor and inside and outside the Capitol throughout the protest that lasted more than 25 hours.

“In this age of always-on mobile communications, Members may find it impractical or unreasonable to have to exit a House building before sending a three-word campaign email,” the Ethics Committee wrote in its report.

The OCE acknowledged during its review that “the evolving nature of electronic communications and campaign solicitations sometimes presents novel issues that are not directly addressed by the House Ethics Manual.”

Luján was among a host of Democratic lawmakers who participated in a sit-in on the House floor last June to protest Republican inaction on gun control legislation after a mass shooting in an Orlando, Florida, nightclub killed 48 people.

A spokesman for Luján called the probe a “politically motivated complaint” that was “without merit.”

The sit-in protest, which disrupted an entire day’s worth of legislative business and carried into the next day, had many lawmakers sharing on social media photos and video of themselves on the floor, which is technically a violation of House rules.

Several Republicans, including those in leadership, suggested punishing Democrats as a result.

So far, Luján’s is the only inquiry on the matter that has been resolved by the House.

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