Topeka — U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., violated congressional gift rules, a government watchdog group alleged in a complaint Thursday. Brownback’s spokesman called the complaint “baseless.”
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, D.C., filed complaints Thursday with congressional ethics committees alleging eight congressmen, including Brownback, received improper gifts by paying below market rent at a Capitol Hill townhouse, known as the C Street House.
Citing news reports, CREW says Brownback, a candidate for Kansas governor, and other congressional residents paid about $950 per month for lodging and housekeeping, while similar accommodations in the area ranged from $1,700 to $4,000 per month.
The C Street House is owned by a group that is affiliated with the Fellowship, CREW said, which it described as “a shadowy religious organization.”
House and Senate rules prohibit lodging as a gift. “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.
CREW describes itself as a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting ethics and accountability in government.
CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan 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.
“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.”
But Brian Hart, a spokesman for Brownback, denied the allegations.
He said, “Brownback lives with his wife and kids in Topeka and commutes to Washington to vote in the Senate. When he is in DC, he stays at a condo that he bought in 2003. He stayed in the group house for less than a year several years ago after his place burned down and before he found his current apartment. The complaint is baseless, a quick Craigslist search shows that the rent is on par with the market.”
In addition to Brownback, who is the leading Republican candidate for governor in Kansas, the complaint names Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and John Ensign, R-Nev., and U.S. Reps. Mike Doyle, D-Penn., Heath Shuler, D-N.C., Bart Stupak, D-Mich., and Zach Wamp, R-Tenn.
A spokesman for Coburn said the rent covers a furnished room and shared bathroom. It does not include meals, housekeeping or parking and is therefore in line with market prices.
Doyle and Stupak said they no longer live in the house but that while there, the rent was fairly assessed.