Monday, June 29, 2015

How Social Media Use Can Violate Post-Employment Restrictions for Members of the US Senate

In March of this year the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Ethics published  AN OVERVIEW OF THE SENATE CODE OF CONDUCT AND RELATED LAWS.

On page 12 there is a discussion regarding the types of post-employment restrictions that former Members of the U.S. Senate face.  Interestingly, former Members are to refrain from communicating with current Senate Members, officers, or employees of either the Senate or the House, or employees with any other legislative office of Congress "with the intent to influence official action on behalf of anyone else for two years after leaving office."

Well, I don't know who all the former Members of the U.S. Senate are, but that's what the Wikipedia List of Living Former US Senators is for.  As you may have already guessed, I've looked at some of the most recent former Senate Member's Twitter pages.

I've noticed that a few Twitter pages have been left to die after the Member's campaign loss or retirement and other accounts continue to get used.  That "continued use" part is what interests me.  It turns out that, yes, "continued use" can mean just what the Senate's post-employment restrictions were meant to protect against.

So far I've found one former U.S. Senator, Jim DeMint, that I noticed was disregarding the "do not contact" rule.  Senator DeMint was in office from 1/3/05-1/1/13.  That means if between 1/1/13-1/1/15 he has used social media to post anything on behalf of anyone else in order to influence official action and it is addressed to a current Senate Member, officer, etc. then DeMint is in violation of the Senate post-employment restrictions.

You can visit him on Twitter at @JimDeMint and see for yourself, but here are some highlights with links included:

Now, go back to the legal jargon above and ask yourself, "Were DeMint's Tweets posted on behalf of anyone else?"  Did you notice that the "@JimDeMint" account links to the "@Heritage" account?  That's because nowadays DeMint is the President of and posts Tweets on behalf of the The Heritage Foundation.  In these posts you can also see that DeMint likes to provide a links to the Heritage Foundation.

Did you notice anything else about the @JimDeMint Twitter account?  Maybe like the fact it was created in 2007.  Yes, this is the same account he used in his official position as a U.S. Senator.  He didn't deactivate his PUBLIC Senator account to start a PRIVATE one.  No, he took all those followers and Tweet activity with him on to his new job in the private sphere.  His Tweets go back to 2010.  Let's take a peek:

These are just a few, but I use them because they illustrate my point that Jim DeMint was indeed using his Twitter account, @JimDeMint, to communicate with the public about his job during this time he was serving as a U.S. Senator.  However, without much thought he took a public record (his entire Senator Twitter account) with him after he left office and continued to use and alter it.  I doubt the Senate Ethics Committee will do anything in regards to Mr. DeMint, but hopefully they will keep other Members of the U.S. Senate from doing the same thing once they leave office.

Did he take all the correspondence he wrote as Senator with him out the door to?  Did he get to continue to use his Senate email account once he left?  Why would his Senate Twitter account be any different?