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Bogus Ethics Complaint Targets Coburn, DeMint, Brownback

4:12 PM, Apr 2, 2010 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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The Hill reports:

Lawmakers living at the C Street House are violating congressional gift rules, a watchdog charged Thursday.

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.), Heath 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 ethics complaint only makes sense if you accept CREW's logic that the rooms rented out are like one-bedroom apartments or efficiency apartments. But the rooms rented out at C Street are not the equivalent of individual apartments with their own private bathrooms, kitchens, and living rooms. The lawmakers share communal space. As Coburn's spokesman John Hart tells The Hill:

"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.”

Hart's tells the truth. Craigslist shows that $950 is clearly fair market value for a room on Capitol Hill. This complaint raises more questions about the ethics of CREW than of the C Street residents. As Roll Call reported two years ago:

Several news stories — in this newspaper as well as in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and others — have pointed out that much of CREW’s funding comes from liberal groups and big donors to Democratic candidates and causes. And all but a handful of its complaints against Members of Congress have targeted Republicans.

CREW has not replied to a request for an interview from THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

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