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U.S. Ethics panel warns lawmakers on disaster relief efforts

In this image provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Nov. 8 shows Typhoon Haiyan as it crosses the Philippines. (Photo: NOAA via AP)WASHINGTON — A reminder arrives from the House Ethics Committee: Members of Congress cannot use their office or website to raise money for disaster relief in the Philippines.
In the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, which devastated the nation last week, the committee has apparently received queries from congressional offices — "What can we do to help?"
The answer is, in short, not much.
Members of Congress are only allowed to use their offices for official duties in representation of their constituents. That means "charitable solicitations using official resources are not permitted," the committee wrote in a Thursday memo.
In addition, "rules of the House prohibit referrals to organizations or links to sites whose primary purpose is the solicitation of goods, funds, or services on behalf of individuals or organizations." That means lawmakers cannot post on their official websites links to organizations that are raising money for disaster relief.
The committee notes that several government websites — the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, for example — have posted information about disaster relief efforts, and lawmakers are allowed to link to those sites.
And of course, individuals who work in Congress can volunteer to raise funds for disaster relief efforts — but not on work hours and not using the office phones or computers.
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