WASHINGTON (CN) – A government watchdog group has filed two ethics complaints calling for an investigation into whether eight congressmen paid below-market rent for rooms at a Capitol Hill townhome in Washington.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed complaints with the Senate Ethics Committee and the House Office of Congressional Ethics against eight congressmen who live or have lived in the brick rowhouse on C Street SE, alleging they violated congressional gift rules by accepting below-market rent prices.
The group names Republican Senators Sam Brownback of Kansas, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Jim DeMint of South Carolina and John Ensign of Nevada, along with Democratic Representatives Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania, Heath Shuler of North Carolina, Bart Stupak of Michigan, and Republican Representative Zach Wamp of Tennessee as recipients of improper gifts from C Street Center Inc., the owner and operator of the house.
C Street Center is affiliated with a Christian prayer group called the Fellowship Foundation.
The congressmen are allegedly paying $950 per month for lodging and housekeeping and may be receiving discounted meals.
Earlier this week, Clergy Voice, a Protestant clergy group from Ohio, asked the IRS to investigate whether the living arrangements constitute a tax violation. The group found that hotels in the Capitol Hill district start at $2,400 per month, corporate housing starts at $4,000 per month, and efficiency or one-bedroom apartments typically go for $1,700 per month.
Senators and House members are prohibited from accepting lodging as a gift, according to congressional rules. The only exceptions are if the housing is provided due to personal friendship or if a congressman is staying in a personal residence owned by an individual, which the C Street Center is not. Congressmen are also not allowed to accept gifts due to their official positions.
“As only members of Congress appear to live in the C Street House, it seems likely that it is because of their positions that they are permitted to live there and are offered below market rent,” CREW said.
“At a time when so many Americans are losing their housing it is surprising to discover that some members of Congress are lucky enough to have a landlord that charges below market rent for fairly luxurious accommodations — and offers housekeeping and meal service to boot,” said CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan.
“Rarely does someone — particularly a member of Congress — receive something for nothing, so you can’t help but wonder exactly what these members may be doing in return for all of this largess,” she added. “Of course, this is the reason the gift ban was enacted in the first place. This situation cries out for an immediate ethics inquiry.”