There’s No House Ethics Rule That Says You Can’t Make Out With Your Staffer

Rep. Vance McAllister’s involvement with a staffer isn’t explicitly against House ethics rules, but a similar case did lead to calls for an inquiry.

A sign for the Office of Congressional Ethics hangs on a wall October 30, 2009 in Washington, DC.
Sarah Mimms
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Sarah Mimms
April 7, 2014, 5:50 p.m.

Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Vance Mc­Al­lister, R-La., apo­lo­gized Monday after a video sur­faced on the web­site of a loc­al pa­per that re­portedly showed him “pas­sion­ately kiss­ing and em­bra­cing a mem­ber of his con­gres­sion­al staff.” Be­cause the wo­man is a paid, part-time staffer in his con­gres­sion­al of­fice, Mc­Al­lister could face an eth­ics in­vest­ig­a­tion.

Though House Eth­ics rules do not spe­cific­ally pro­hib­it ro­mantic in­volve­ment between a mem­ber of Con­gress and his or her staff, the rules do re­quire mem­bers to “con­duct them­selves at all times in a man­ner that re­flects cred­it­ably on the House.” That broad reg­u­la­tion could provide sup­port for an in­vest­ig­a­tion against Mc­Al­lister.

Such a case is not un­pre­ced­en­ted. The un­fold­ing Mc­Al­lister epis­ode is re­min­is­cent of a 2010 in­cid­ent in­volving then-Rep. John Souder, R-Ind., who resigned after ad­mit­ting to an af­fair with a staffer in his own dis­trict of­fice. After Re­pub­lic­an In­di­ana Gov. Mike Pence, then one of Souder’s col­leagues in the House, learned of the af­fair, he re­por­ted it to the House Com­mit­tee on Eth­ics. Speak­er John Boehner fol­lowed up with a let­ter to the com­mit­tee con­cern­ing the af­fair and told Souder to resign.

Souder took his ad­vice, end­ing the in­vest­ig­a­tion (the com­mit­tee is only au­thor­ized to look in­to the con­duct of cur­rent mem­bers of Con­gress).

However, the ex­tent of Mc­Al­lister’s re­la­tion­ship with his staffer — iden­ti­fied by The Ou­achita Cit­izen as Melissa Anne Hix­on Pea­cock, 33 — is un­clear. In his state­ment Monday, Mc­Al­lister apo­lo­gized for “what I’ve done,” but did not elab­or­ate on what ex­actly that means.

Both Mc­Cal­lister and Pea­cock are mar­ried, The Cit­izen re­por­ted. Pea­cock and her hus­band, Hugh Pea­cock, both con­trib­uted the max­im­um amount al­lowed to Mc­Cal­lister’s cam­paign be­fore she was hired to work in his con­gres­sion­al of­fice, and the couple are long-time friends. Hugh Pea­cock and Mc­Al­lister went to high school to­geth­er and worked at the same oil-and-gas com­pany for 16 years, The Cit­izen re­por­ted.

Neither the Of­fice of Con­gres­sion­al Eth­ics nor the House Eth­ics Com­mit­tee would com­ment on the pos­sib­il­ity of an in­vest­ig­a­tion, and none of the of­fices of mem­bers of the com­mit­tee or the Louisi­ana del­eg­a­tion re­spon­ded to re­quests for com­ment.

Asked wheth­er a re­quest for an in­vest­ig­a­tion in­to the mat­ter had been filed Monday, Eth­ics Com­mit­tee Chief Coun­sel Tom Rust said, “We cer­tainly can’t com­ment on that.”

Mc­Al­lister won his House seat in a con­ten­tious spe­cial elec­tion just last Novem­ber. He de­feated state Sen. Neil Riser — who had the sup­port of Gov. Bobby Jin­dal, out­go­ing Rep. Rod­ney Al­ex­an­der, House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor, and oth­er mem­bers of the Louisi­ana del­eg­a­tion — by 19 points in a run­off.

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