C St. lawmakers hit with ethics complaint

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint Thursday with the Senate Ethics Committee and the House Office of Congressional Ethics, charging members residing at C Street with paying below-market rent.

The complaint lists Sens. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and John Ensign (R-Nev.) as well as Reps. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), Health Shuler (D-N.C.), Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.) as allegedly receiving improper housing benefits.

The C Street House attracted scrutiny after news broke that the married Ensign had an affair with the wife of one of his top aides. Other reports said Ensign paid the woman and helped her husband find lobbying work after they left his employment.

Recent press reports also have indicated that members of Congress who live in the house pay $950 per month in rent in return for lodging and housekeeping services. Meals also may be available at an unknown extra cost, CREW said in a release.

Earlier this week, Clergy VOICE, a group of leaders from various denominations, filed a complaint with the IRS asking for an investigation into the tax implications of accepting lodging at the C Street House. The group said it surveyed the Capitol Hill rental market and found 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 rent for at least $1,700 a month.

The House and Senate gift rules prohibit accepting discounted lodging unless the housing is provided to an individual based on personal friendship or if it is hospitality provided in a residence owned by an individual. In this case, however, the red brick townhouse located close to the Capitol has a corporate owner, the C Street Center Inc.

“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,” CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan said in a release.

Coburn spokesman John Hart fired back at Sloan for filing a complaint he charged was based on “anti-religious bigotry and partisanship, not facts.”

“Anyone who has spent 10 minutes on Craigslist would realize that C Street residents pay fair-market value,” Hart said. “Residents at the [C Street] boarding house have one bedroom. Most share a bathroom. All pay for their own meals and share personal space with the other residents and guests. They even share the remote … they fight over their favorite channel.”

Doyle and Stupak said they no longer live at C Street and never received subsidized rent there.

“My living arrangements then and now have always complied with House rules and regulations,” Doyle said in an e-mailed statement.

Stupak echoed the assertion in his own statement.

"My living arrangements have always been, and continue to be, in full compliance with all the rules and regulations of the U.S. House of Representatives," he said.

Brownback has not lived there since July 2003, according to media reports.

This story was posted at 12:43 p.m. and updated at 1:33 p.m.