Roles and Duties of a Member of Congress
Roles and Duties of a Member of Congress
Updated March 10, 2008
R. Eric Petersen
Analyst in American National Government
Government and Finance Division
Roles and Duties of a Member of Congress
The duties carried out by a Member of Congress are understood to include
representation, legislation, and constituent service and education, as well as political
and electoral activities. The expectations and duties of a Member of Congress are
extensive, encompassing several roles that could be full-time jobs by themselves.
Despite the acceptance of these roles and other activities as facets of the Member’s
job, there is no formal set of requirements or official explanation of what roles might
be played as Members carry out the duties of their offices. In the absence of formal
authorities, many of the responsibilities that Members of Congress have assumed
over the years have evolved from the expectations of Members and their constituents.
Upon election to Congress, Members typically develop approaches to their jobs
that serve a wide range of roles and responsibilities. Given the dynamic nature of the
congressional experience, priorities placed on various Member roles tend to shift in
response to changes in seniority, committee assignment, policy focus, district or state
priorities, institutional leadership, and electoral pressures. In response, the roles and
specific duties a Member carries out are often highlighted or de-emphasized
Although elements of all the roles described can be found among the duties
performed by any Senator or Representative, the degree to which each is carried out
differs among Members. Each Member may also emphasize different duties during
different stages of his or her career. With no written requirements, each Member is
free to define his or her own job and set his or her own priorities.
This report will be updated as warranted.
Member and Public Expectations.....................................3
Roles of Members of Congress.......................................6
Oversight and Investigation......................................9
Advice and Consent (Senators Only)..............................10
Personal Office Management....................................10
Electoral and Political Activity..................................11
List of Tables
Table 1. Roles and Duties of a Member of Congress Identified by
Members of the House of Representatives..........................4
Table 2. Jobs, Duties, and Functions the Public Expects a Member
of Congress to Perform.........................................5
Roles and Duties of a Member of Congress
The U.S. Constitution establishes qualifications for Representatives and
Senators, but it is silent about the roles and duties of an individual Member of
Congress.1 House and the Senate rules require only that Members be present and2
vote on each question placed before their chamber. The job of a Member of
Congress has been characterized as “a license to persuade, connive, hatch ideas,
propagandize, assail enemies, vote, build coalitions, shepherd legislation, and in
general cut a figure in public affairs.”3 There is no formal set of requirements or
official explanation of what roles or duties are required, or what different Members
might emphasize as they carry out their work. In the absence of such formal
authorities, many of the responsibilities that Members of Congress have assumed
over the years have evolved from the expectations of Members and their4
Today, the roles and duties carried out by a Member of Congress are understood
to include representation, legislation, and constituent service and education, as well
as political and electoral activities. In a typical week, Members may oversee
constituent services in the state or district, travel between their state or district to
1 Art. I, Sec. 2 of the Constitution requires that a Member of the House of Representatives
be at least 25 years old, a citizen of the United States for at least seven years, and a resident
of the state from which they are elected at the time they are elected. Article I, Section 3
requires that a Senator be at least 30 years old, a citizen of the United States for at least nine
years, and resident of the state from which they are elected at the time they are elected.
2 House Rule III, sec. (1); Senate Rule VI (2) and Rule XII (1).
3 David R. Mayhew, America’s Congress: Actions in the Public Sphere, James Madison
Through Newt Gingrich (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000), p. 9.
4 For general treatments of the work of Members of Congress, see Lee H. Hamilton, How
Congress Works and Why You Should Care (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press,th
(Washington: CQ Press, 2004), pp. 119-150; Steven S. Smith, The American Congress
(Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1995), pp. 94-102; Thomas E. Kavanagh, “The Two
Arenas of Congress,” in Joseph Cooper and G. Calvin Mackenzie, eds., The House at Work
(Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981), pp. 56-77; Lewis Anthony Dexter, “The Job of
a Congressman,” in Raymond E. Wolfinger, ed. Readings on Congress (Englewood Cliffs,
NJ: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1971), pp. 69-89; Roger H. Davidson, The Role of a Congressman
(New York: Pegasus, 1969); Donald Tacheron and Morris K. Udall, The Job of the
Congressman: An Introduction to Service in the U.S. House of Representatives (New York:
The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1966); Charles L. Clapp, The Congressman: His Work
as He Sees It (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1964); and Donald R.
Matthews, U.S. Senators and Their World (New York: Vintage Books, 1960).
Washington, DC, to participate in committee activities, greet a local delegation from
the home state, meet with lobbyists, supervise office staff, speak on the floor, conduct
investigations, interact with the news media, and attend to various electoral duties,
including fundraising, planning, or campaigning for reelection. Given that no precise
definition exists for the role of a Member, upon election to Congress, each new
Member is responsible for developing an approach to his or her job that serves a wide
range of roles and responsibilities. One observer of Congress notes that the first job
of a Member is to come
...to grips with the dimensions of [their] role and develop a personal approach to
[their] tasks. Given the many challenges, the overall conclusion is readily
apparent: the key to effectiveness in Congress is the ability to organize well
within a framework of carefully selected priorities. It is not possible, however,
to construct a grand master plan such that priorities and the time devoted to each
will neatly mesh, for legislative life is subject to sudden and numerous5
Observers note that after identifying and organizing priorities, a Member
typically carries out some of the resulting duties personally, and delegates others to
congressional staff who act on his or her behalf. The staff may work in the Member’s
individual office, on committees to which the Member is assigned, in offices
connected to leadership posts the Member may hold, and to the separate political and
reelection operations the Member may maintain. In this understanding, the Member
sets broad policies to fulfill his or her duties, and the appropriate staff act to carry
them out. The distribution of responsibility will vary according to the preferences
and priorities of the Member at the center of the effort. Nevertheless, the work
carried out by staff is typically attributed to the effort of the Member.6
Many scholars of Congress see these Member choices and delegation
arrangements as dependent in part on their goals. Generally, these observers suggest
that Members pursue three primary goals: making good public policy, securing
influence within Congress, and gaining reelection. The relative priority a Member
may assign to these goals can affect a wide range of choices regarding a
congressional career, including (1) the emphasis given to different roles and duties;
(2) activities in the Washington, DC, and district or state offices; (3) staffing choices
in Member and committee offices; and (4) preference for committee assignments.
It can also affect a Member’s approaches to legislative work, constituent relations,7
media relations, party issues, and electoral activities. Given the dynamics of the
5 Gerald D. Sturges, “The Freshman Faces Congress,” in Sven Groennings and Jonathon P.
Hawley, eds., To Be a Congressman: The Promise and the Power (Washington, DC:
Acropolis Books, Ltd, 1973) p. 35.
6 See Davidson and Oleszek, Congress and its Members, pp. 140-145; Robert H. Salisbury
and Kenneth A. Shepsle, “U.S. Congressman as Enterprise,” Legislative Studies Quarterly,
vol. 6, November 1981, pp. 559-576; and Burdett A. Loomis, “The Congressional Office as
a Small (?) Business: New Members Set Up Shop,” Publius, vol. 9, Summer 1979, pp. 35-
7 See Gregory J. Wawro, Legislative Entrepreneurship in the U.S. House of Representatives
(Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2000); George Serra and David Moon,
congressional environment, the priorities that Members place on various roles may
change as the their seniority increases, or in response to changes in committee
assignments, policy focus, district or state priorities, institutional leadership, or
Member and Public Expectations
As part of a broader evaluation of House administrative practices in the mid-8
1970s, the House Commission on Administrative Review surveyed Members of the
House and asked them to describe the major jobs, duties, and functions that they
believed they were expected to perform. At the same time, the commission hired the
research firm Louis Harris and Associates to conduct a survey of the public to gauge
its expectations of Congress and its Members.
The Member survey found that the three most frequently mentioned duties and
activities were the drafting and introduction of legislation; helping constituents solve
problems; and representing the interests of their districts and constituents. Other
expectations included position taking and constituent education.9 Table 1
summarizes the responses received by role categories established by the commission.
According to the public survey conducted by the commission, the most common
expectations of Members were to represent the people and district according to the
wishes of the majority; to solve problems in the district; and to keep in contact with
the people in the district through regular visits and meetings in the district and polls
or questionnaires. Other public expectations included regular attendance in
“Casework, Issue Positions, and Voting in Congressional Elections: A District Analysis,”
The Journal of Politics, vol. 56, Feb., 1994, pp. 200-213; R. Douglas Arnold, The Logic of
Congressional Action (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990); Morris P. Fiorina,nd
Congress, Keystone of the Washington Establishment, 2 ed. (New Haven, CT: Yale
University Press, 1989); Bruce Cain, John Ferejohn, and Morris Fiorina, The Personal Vote:
Constituency Service and Electoral Independence (Cambridge, MA: The Harvard University
Press, 1987); John R. Johannes, “Explaining Congressional Casework Styles,” American
Journal of Political Science, vol. 27, Aug. 1983, pp. 530-547; Glenn R. Parker, “Cycles in
Congressional District Attention,” Journal of Politics, vol. 42, May, 1980, pp. 540-548;
Richard F. Fenno, Home Style: House Members in Their Districts (New York: Harper
Collins, 1978); and David R. Mayhew, Congress: The Electoral Connection (New Haven,
CT: Yale University Press, 1974).
8 See U.S. Congress, House, Commission on Administrative Review, Final Report of the
Commission on Administrative Review, 2 vols., H. Doc. 95-272, 95th Cong., 1st sess.
(Washington: GPO, 1977). While these observations are somewhat dated, there has been
no similar study conducted more recently. There appears to be no reason to believe that the
roles have changed in the past three decades, although it is possible that the emphasis placed
on each role may have shifted.
9 Findings are based on 146 responses by Members of the House to the question, “... what
would you say are the major kinds of jobs, duties or functions you feel you are expected to
perform as an individual Member of Congress?”
legislative sessions and voting on legislation. Table 2 summarizes the most
frequently mentioned responses to the public survey.
Table 1. Roles and Duties of a Member of Congress Identified
by Members of the House of Representatives
% of Members
RoleDuties and ActivitiesIdentifying10
LegislativeDraft and introduce legislation87
ConstituencyHelp constituents solve their problems79
Education/Articulate and take positions on issues; educate43
Communicationand inform constituents about legislation
RepresentativeRepresent and advocate the district’s andconstituents’ interests26
PoliticalCampaigning, party leadership, and reelection11
OversightDetermine that laws are administered asCongress intended9
InstitutionalInteract with the executive branch, interestgroups and other levels of government7
OfficeOversight of personal office6
Everyt hing “J ack-of-all-trades” 6
OtherOther varied expectations4
Source: U.S. House, Commission on Administrative Review, Final Report, vol. 2, pp. 874-875.
Despite differences in point of view, both the Member and public survey results
describe common interests in local representation, constituency service issues,
legislative activity, and regular contact between the Member and the district. The
differences between Member and public expectations may reflect the different
perspectives on the work of a Member of Congress. Where Members are daily
confronted with representational, legislative, and institutional duties, the public focus
on representational, legislative, and service responsibilities, apparently without
recognizing a broader underlying institutional, procedural, and operational
framework in which Members of Congress operate. Some observers suggest that this
10 Percentages are based on 146 responses by Members of the House to the question, “...
what would you say are the major kinds of jobs, duties or functions you feel you are
expected to perform as an individual Member of Congress?” Many Members mentioned
more than one job, duty, or function.
narrow public focus is in part a reflection of the attention the public gives, or does
not give, to political matters in general.11
Common Member and public interest in local representation, constituency
service issues, legislative activity, and regular contact between the Member and the
constituency may partially explain how individual Members of Congress receive
broad public satisfaction or approval of their performance while Congress as an
institution, where Members engage the procedural and operational barriers the public
disdains, routinely trails the executive and judicial branches in public approval.
Table 2. Jobs, Duties, and Functions the Public Expects a
Member of Congress to Perform
Job Duty or Function% of Public Identifying Job,Duty, or Functiona
Work to solve problems in the district, help the people, and37
respond the issues and needs of the district
To represent the people and district, and to vote according to35
the wish of the majority of their constituents
Keep in contact with the people, visit the district, know the17
Find out what the people need, want, and think; send out12
polls and questionnaires
Attend all or as many sessions as possible; be there to vote10
Be honest, fair, as truthful as possible, keep promises, and be10
of good character
Work on improving the economy, lowering prices and10
creating more jobs
Source: U.S. House, Commission on Administrative Review, Final Report, vol. 2, pp. 822-
a. Percentages are based on 1,518 public responses to the question, “what kinds of jobs,
duties, or functions do you expect a good Congressman to perform?” This table
identifies all responses that were mentioned by 10% or more of the respondents. An
additional 15 responses encompassing a range of Member jobs, duties, or functions
were identified by 9% or fewer of the respondents to the citizen survey.
11 See John R. Hibbing and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse, “What the Public Dislikes About
Congress,” in Lawrence C. Dodd, and Bruce Oppenheimer, Congress Reconsidered 8th ed.
(Washington: CQ Press, 2005), pp.55-76; Roger H. Davidson, “Public Prescriptions for the
Job of a Congressman,” Midwest Journal of Political Science, vol. 14, no. 4 (Nov. 1970) pp.
Roles of Members of Congress
The responses to the Member and public surveys suggest that the roles and
duties of a Member of Congress can be identified in part as an outgrowth of
congressional and public expectations. These congressional roles may be described
by focusing on some of the underlying tasks typically required to carry them out.
Because some of the duties are complex, and some of the underlying tasks often
overlap, some of the roles may overlap. The roles described below are derived from
!congressional duties mentioned in the Constitution;
!responses to the House surveys of Members and the general public;
Broadly, a system of representative government assumes that the will of the
people is consulted and accommodated when making public policies that affect them.
Consequently, representational activity is present in all of the roles of a Member of
Congress. Representational activity is seen in the legislative process, constituent
service, oversight, and investigation duties that Members carry out. In Congress,
Members are elected to represent the interests of the people in their congressional
district or state. In addition, they represent regional and national interests in matters
which might come before Congress.
On the local level, Members of the House represent congressional districts of
populations ranging approximately from 500,000 to 900,000 constituents.12 Senators
represent states that range in population from 509,000 (Wyoming) to more than 36.1
million (California).13 In the nation’s capital, Members serve as advocates for the
views and needs of their constituents as well as stewards of national interests.
Representational work may involve legislative activity such as analyzing the
provisions of proposed legislation for their potential impact on the area represented,
or constituent service activity, such as assisting individuals, local governments, and
organizations in obtaining federal grants and benefits.
Styles of representation differ. Some Members might view themselves as
responding to instructions from their constituents — sometimes called the “delegate”
style. Others might prefer to act upon their own initiative and rely upon their own
judgment — sometimes called the “trustee” style. In practice, when considering new
12 More information on apportioning seats in the House is available in CRS Report
RS20768, House Apportionment 2000: States Gaining, Losing, and on the Margin, by
13 Population totals are based on July 1, 2005 estimated population. See U.S. Census Bureau,
Population, Population change and estimated components of population change: April 1,
NST _ EST 2005_ALLDAT A.csv] .
legislation or the effects of implementing existing law, the opinion of their
constituency often may be uppermost in a Member’s mind. Constituent views,
however, may vary in intensity from issue to issue, or fall on several sides of an issue,
and the Member would typically take into account opinions from other sources as
well. Consequently, most Members typically balance or reconcile these competing
viewpoints with their own judgement when casting their votes, providing constituent
service, or conducting oversight.14
Another facet of representation involves presenting a view of government
activity to constituents and the broader American public. Members of Congress
regularly draw attention to policy issues and federal government activities in order
to educate constituents and other citizens and to encourage more robust citizen
participation in public affairs. This educational function is typically performed
through newsletters and special mailings sent to residents in the district or state, or
through a variety of media outlets, which may include a Member website, and
appearances and interviews on local television and radio programs.
In developing and debating legislative proposals, Members may take different
approaches to learn how best to represent the interests of their district or state,
together with the interests of the nation. This may require identifying local, national,
and international issues or problems which need legislative action, and proposing or
supporting legislation which addresses them. Throughout the legislative process,
Members of Congress routinely attend committee hearings and briefings, hold
meetings and conversations with executive branch officials and with lobbyists
representing various interested groups, and have discussions with congressional
colleagues. In addition, many Members receive staff briefings based on a broad
range of sources, including congressional support agencies, local and national media
outlets, specialized policy-oriented literature, and background material on legislative
issues, among others.
An important venue for congressional activities is the committee, through which
much of the work of Congress is organized. Committees typically are the first place
in which legislative policy proposals receive substantive consideration. Members of
Congress are assigned to a number of committees and subcommittees simultaneously,
and are expected to develop issue expertise in the policy areas that come before these
panels. Typically, each Senator is assigned to three committees and at least eight
subcommittees. With the exception of Members who serve on committees that their
party has designated as exclusive, each Representative is typically assigned to two
14 See Lee Hamilton, “What I Wish Political Scientists Would Teach about Congress,” PS:
Political Science & Politics, vol. 33, December 2000, pp. 757-759; and Burdett Loomis, The
Contemporary Congress (New York: St. Martins Press, 1996), pp. 6-10. For a discussion
of the trustee and delegate theories of representation, see Hannah Fenichel Pipkin, The
Concept of Representation (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1967); and Heinz
Eulau, John C. Wahlke, William Buchanan, and Leroy C. Ferguson, “The Role of the
Representative: Some Empirical Observations on the Theory of Edmund Burke,” American
Political Science Review, vol. 53, Sept., 1959, pp. 742-756.
standing committees and four subcommittees. Committee members usually
participate in hearings to question witnesses, and engage in mark-up sessions to draft,
amend and refine the text of legislation, and to vote on whether to send specific
measures to the floor of their chamber. Members also testify before other
congressional committees on matters of interest to their district or state, or on matters
in which the Member has developed expertise. In addition to these duties, Senate
committee membership involves review of executive and judicial nominations and
may include consideration of treaties.
Some Members, generally those with more seniority, also participate in
conference committees. Conference committees are convened to work out
differences when the House and Senate pass different versions of the same bill.
Members of conference committees participate in the final resolution of policy
disputes, legislative-executive bargaining, and significant policy decisions.
Members generally participate in floor debate most fully when measures of
importance to their home district or state are involved, or when matters reported from
their legislative committees are under consideration. Floor activity might include
preparing statements, conducting research to defend or deter provisions of a bill, and
offering amendments. It may also mean debating other Members, in an effort to
persuade the undecided, and engaging in extensive informal political negotiations to
advance legislative goals.15
The constituency service role is closely related to the representative and
educational roles of a Member of Congress. Frequently, when constituents or local
firms or organizations need assistance from the federal government, they contact their
Representative or Senators. Members then act as representatives, ombudsmen, or
facilitators, and sometimes as advocates, in discussions with the federal government.
The constituency service role may be highly varied, and involve several activities,
provided to individual constituents, including
!outreach, in which Members introduce themselves and inform
constituents of the services typically provided;
!gathering information on federal programs,
15 Discussions of the debate and informal negotiating process in Congress can be found in
Joseph Bessette, “Deliberation in American Lawmaking,” Philosophy and Public Policy,
vol. 14, Winter/Spring 1994, pp.18-23. For a discussion of different types of deliberation
and their use in the legislative process, see George E. Connor and Bruce I. Oppenheimer,
“Deliberation: An Untimed Value in a Timed Game,” in Lawrence C. Dodd and Bruce I.
Oppenheimer, eds., Congress Reconsidered, 5th ed. (Washington: CQ Press, 1993), pp. 315-
320. Also, see Lawrence C. Dodd, “Congress and the Politics of Renewal,” in Dodd and
Oppenheimer, Congress Reconsidered, pp. 426-427.
!casework, in which congressional staff members provide assistance
in obtaining federal benefits or in solving constituents’ problems
!providing nominations to United States service academies;17 and
!arranging visits or tours to the Capitol or other Washington, DC,
Assistance on behalf of firms and organizations may involve providing letters
and other communication in support of grant or other applications for federal
benefits. The constituency service role also allows a Member the opportunity to see
how government programs are working, and what problems may need to be
addressed through formal oversight or legislation.18
Oversight and Investigation
In addition to its legislative responsibilities, Congress is responsible for
seeing that the laws are administered according to congressional intent. While some
Members receive feedback on the success of public policies through constituency
service and the experiences of constituents who seek casework assistance, most of
the oversight and investigation duties of Members are carried out through
committees. Committees and Members can review the actions taken and regulations
formulated by departments and agencies through hearings, studies, and informal
communication with agencies and those affected by a program or policy.
Oversight and investigation can take several forms. In addition to casework
activity, the process of authorizing and appropriating funds for executive branch
departments and agencies in committee hearings also affords Members and
committees the opportunity to review the adequacy of those agencies’ organization,
operations, and programs. Investigatory hearings are often conducted in response to
an emerging crisis or scandal. At various points in the oversight and investigative
process of Congress, individual Members can participate in the proceedings, for
example, by questioning executive branch leaders, or reporting the experiences
constituents have had with particular programs or agencies.19
16 See John R. Johannes, “Casework in the House,” in Cooper and Mackenzie, The House
at Work, pp.78-96.
17 See CRS Report RL33213, Congressional Nominations to U.S. Service Academies: An
Overview and Resources for Outreach and Management, by R. Eric Petersen.
18 See CRS Report RL33209, Casework in a Congressional Office: Background, Rules,
Laws, and Resources, by R. Eric Petersen.
19 See CRS Report RL30240, Congressional Oversight Manual, by Frederick M. Kaiser,
Walter J. Oleszek, T. J. Halstead, Morton Rosenberg, and Todd B. Tatelman.
Advice and Consent (Senators Only)
The Constitution places upon the Senate, but not the House, the responsibility
for confirming nominations of individuals for appointive federal office, federal
judicial nominations, and to ratify treaties negotiated by the executive branch with
foreign nations. Individual Senators typically participate in hearings to determine the
suitability of candidates nominated for executive office and the adequacy of the
provisions of treaties.20 Senators are also expected to participate in the floor debate
on these matters.
Some Members of Congress hold leadership positions within their chamber.
Leadership responsibilities include leading negotiations within the party to formulate
party positions on legislative issues, mediating political conflicts among Members
of the same party, persuading Members to join in voting coalitions, keeping count as
voting blocs form, participating in decisions to set the legislative agenda for the
chamber, and negotiating agreements on when to schedule, and how to consider,
specific bills on the floor. Representatives and Senators may also hold the position
of chairman or ranking minority member on a committee or subcommittee, and have
responsibility, or participate in the process of, scheduling of that committee’s
business and selecting the issues that will compose the committee or subcommittee’s
agenda. Some Representatives and Senators also participate in a leadership capacity
in their respective party caucus or conferences.
Leadership duties may be carried out both by Members who hold formal
leadership positions and those who do not. Issues on which individual Members
have recently taken informal leadership roles include campaign finance reform,
planning for the continuity of Congress, and lobbying and ethics reform.
Personal Office Management
Members of Congress are supported by a personal office in which staff
perform legislative research, prepare materials for the Member to study, provide
constituency service, manage constituency correspondence, handle media relations,
and perform administrative and clerical functions. Staff and office facilities are
provided through funds appropriated annually, and allocated to Members according
to the procedures of each chamber.21 The precise duties and tasks carried out in a
Member office will vary with the Member’s personal preferences, which are typically
informed by seniority, committee assignment, policy focus, district or state priorities,
institutional leadership, and electoral considerations.
20 In addition, Senators on the appropriate committees are sometimes asked to “advise” on
the terms of a treaty as it is being negotiated. They do so by consulting with executive
branch officials, and by observing, and sometimes participating in, the treaty negotiations
in progress between the U.S. and foreign delegations.
21 See CRS Report RL30064, Congressional Salaries and Allowances, by Ida A. Brudnick.
Each Member is allocated public funds to maintain office payroll and expense
accounts, and typically supervises work carried out in Washington, DC, and state or
district offices.22 Every Representative is authorized to have up to 18 full-time and
four half-time positions to assist them in their duties. In the Senate, the number of
authorized staff varies according to the population of the state a Senator represents.
Electoral and Political Activity
An integral part of the work of Members of Congress, their reelection plans,
is separate from their official congressional duties. For those Members of Congress
running for reelection, activities may include organizing and maintaining a personal
campaign staff, campaigning, and raising funds for reelection or election to another
office. Members may also be significant political leaders of their party, as public
spokespersons, and as fund raisers for themselves and other congressional candidates.
At the state or district level, they may also aid and influence the candidacies of state
and local government officials. In addition, some Members also hold leadership
posts within their national political parties, such as serving on their party’s
congressional campaign committee. House and Senate Rules mandate that with very
limited exceptions, political and campaign activities must be conducted outside of
federal facilities, including congressional offices.23
With no formal or definitive requirements, each Member of Congress is free
to define his or her own job and set his or her own priorities. Although elements of
each of the roles described can be found among the duties performed by any Senator
or Representative, the degree to which each is carried out differs among Members as
they pursue the common goals of seeking reelection, building influence in Congress,
and making good public policy. Each Member may also emphasize different duties
during different stages of his or her career as other conditions of the Member’s
situation change. For example, some may focus on outreach, constituent service, and
other state or district activity. Others may focus on developing influence in their
chamber by developing policy expertise or advancing specific legislation. No
Member, however, is likely to focus on any one role or duty at the exclusion of
another, because the extent to which a Member successfully manages all of those
roles is the basis on which his or her constituents may judge the Member’s success.
22 See Steven S. Smith, The American Congress, pp.102-111; Susan Webb Hammond, “The
Management of Legislative Offices,” in Cooper and Mackenzie, The House at Work, pp.
23 U.S. House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, Campaign Booklet, available
at [http://www.house.gov/ethics/Campaign_booklet.htm#_Toc528993014]; and U.S. Senate,
Committee on Ethics, Campaign-Related Questions: Quick Reference, available at