Washington, D.C. - Today, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed complaints with the Senate Ethics Committee and the House Office of Congressional Ethics against members of Congress who reside or have resided at the C Street House, alleging they paid below market rent in violation of congressional gift rules.
CREW’s complaints name Senators Sam Brownback (R-KS), Tom Coburn (R-OK), Jim DeMint (R-SC), and John Ensign (R-NV), as well as Representatives Mike Doyle (D-PA), Heath Shuler (D-NC), Bart Stupak (D-MI) and Zach Wamp (R-TN) as members of Congress who received improper gifts from C Street Center, Inc., the entity that runs the house and is affiliated with the Fellowship, a shadowy religious organization.
Recent press accounts indicate that members of Congress who live in the house pay $950 per month in return for lodging and housekeeping services. Meals may also be available at an unknown extra cost.
Earlier in the week, Clergy VOICE, a group of clergy from various religious traditions, filed a complaint with the IRS asking for an investigation into the tax implications of accepting lodging at the C Street House. The group surveyed the Capitol Hill rental market and discovered that nearby hotels charge a minimum of $2,400 per month, corporate housing costs a minimum of $4,000 per month and efficiency or one bedroom apartments typically go for at least $1,700 per month. None of these rates include any meals.
The House and Senate gift rules specifically include “lodging” as a prohibited gift. There are only two exceptions to the ban on accepting lodging: if it is provided by an individual based on personal friendship, or if it is hospitality in a personal residence owned by an individual. Here, because a corporate entity – C Street Center, Inc. – owns the property, neither exception applies. In addition, members may not accept gifts offered to members of Congress because of 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 Executive Director Melanie Sloan stated, “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.” Sloan continued, “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. Of course, this is the reason the gift ban was enacted in the first place. This situation cries out for an immediate ethics inquiry.”