Abigail Spanberger is now a Congresswoman-elect, but she is in a Trefoil over Girl Scout cookie season.
She’s one of her daughter’s troop leaders, and as she prepares for her new job representing Virginia’s 7th Congressional District, she wonders if she has a conflict of interest.
“Can I go in the neighborhood and sell Girl Scout cookies or are people going to feel compelled because I’m now their representative in Congress? Do you know what I mean?” she asked.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
Given the sex and financial scandals of Congress, it seems kind of sweet that a member-elect is fretting over the ethics of selling Thin Mints. But it may be the type of issue that’s bound to arise when a record number of women have been elected to Congress.
Cookie case law from the House Ethics Committee may be wanting. They’ve never publicly addressed the sale of Girl Scout cookies.
But if Spanberger needs advice, others have walked this path. Sixty percent of women who will serve next Congress are Girl Scout alums. And Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., balanced her job in Congress with being a troop co-leader from 2006 to 2012.
“I still have the bins and bins of crafts that I collected so that we could always have something ready to go when our meeting came up,” Wasserman Schultz said, laughing.
Spanberger, a Democrat, said it wasn’t a problem in her previous government work to just let colleagues know her daughter was selling them. She is a former U.S. Postal Inspection Service law enforcement officer and undercover Central Intelligence Agency operative, which makes it even more amusing when she jokes: “If we’re doing booth sales, do I just put a baseball cap on and hope nobody recognizes me?”
No, serving in Congress won’t require her to go undercover – again.
Wasserman Schultz certainly didn’t have to go incognito when her daughters’ troop sold cookies at the Publix or when the girls knocked on doors in the neighborhood. She was right behind them, pulling the wagon of cookies, she said.
Most of her sales were at home, although colleagues and staff would approach her for their cookie fix once word got out that she was a troop leader.
“I certainly didn’t send out any solicitation – there was nothing like that – because that wouldn’t be ethical,” she said.
Congressional Management Foundation President Bradford Fitch said, like any boss, members of Congress would need to be careful about selling cookies to their staff, but he didn’t see any ethical violations with them helping their daughters sell to constituents. They just can’t use their post to pressure people to buy cookies.
“(Spanberger) doesn’t relinquish her responsibilities as a mom because she’s a member of Congress,” said Fitch, whose organization advises new members and is involved in their orientation this week in Washington D.C. “It’s probably a great way to connect with constituents.”