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Ethics Questions Raised for Congressmen Who Stayed at C Street House

Posted by on Apr. 1, 2010 at 4:38 PM
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3:39 p.m. | Updated WASHINGTON — First it was the owner of the red brick townhouse on 133 C Street SE that drew a group’s ire. Now it’s the Congressmen who actually stayed there.

A group of Ohio ministers and an ethics watchdog group here have separately asked federal investigators to examine whether four House members and four Senators received what amounts to illegal gifts for paying $950 a month, including housekeeping, to stay at the C Street house. But the tenants deny that they are getting breaks on the rent.

The town house, which is affiliated with the secretive religious group known as the Fellowship, include both Democrats and Republicans. But in the last year the residence became best known as the onetime home of Senator John Ensign, Republican of Nevada, who lived there while he was involved in an affair with the wife of one of his senior aides.

The other current or former residents cited in the letters written to the Internal Revenue Service and the House and Senate ethics committees are Senators Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas; Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma; Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina; and Representatives Mike Doyle, Democrat of Pennsylvania; Heath Shuler, Democrat of North Carolina; Bart Stupak, Democrat of Michigan; and Zach Wamp, Republican of Tennessee.

Marcus S. Owens, a lawyer representing a group that calls itself Clergy Voice, argues in the letter he sent Monday to the Internal Revenue Service that a one-bedroom apartment on Capitol Hill would cost at least $1,700, while a hotel or would be even more expensive. By comparison, he said, rent at the C Street house for members has been $950 a month.

But John Hart, a spokesman for Senator Coburn, said: “This is a witch hunt, not an ethics complaint.” He said the house is in line with the going rate for similar boarding arrangements in Washington.

Leaders of the Foundation — a group that sponsors the annual National Prayer Breakfast — uses the house to meet with members of Congress and introduce them to followers of their causes.

A spokesman for the C Street House, who asked not to be identified as the group keeps its operations secret, said that the rents that members pay range from $600 to $1,000 a month, depending on if they have a private bathroom. He said this is a fair market rent, as what is offered is essentially a boarding house. He called the ethics allegations politically motivated.

Members of Congress who lived in the C Street house might be liable for unpaid income taxes, if the Internal Revenue Service rules that they did not pay a fair market value for their rent, Mr. Owens argues in his letter. They might also have violated a rule that prohibits members of Congress from accepting significant gifts, says a letter sent on Thursday to the House and Senate ethics committee by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Separately, the Clergy Voice group — made up of a collection of Ohio ministers and church religious leaders — has asked the I.R.S. to repeal the tax exempt status for the C Street Center, the name of the group that formally owns the house. Late last year, the District of Columbia already made such a move, ruling that most of the house, which is worth $1.8 million, is rental space so it should have to pay at least a share of its local property tax bill.

Mr. Doyle and Mr. Stupak, in statements, rejected the allegations.

“While I no longer live at C Street, I never received any subsidized rent there,” Mr. Doyle said. “My living arrangements then and now have always complied with House rules and regulations.”

Mr. Stupak said: “I no longer live at C Street, but while there I never received any subsidies toward my rent or living expenses. 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.”

Spokesmen for other House members and the Senators cited in the letters did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

by on Apr. 1, 2010 at 4:38 PM
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