Topeka A group that filed an ethics complaint accusing nine members of Congress of paying below-market rents to live in a Washington home affiliated with a Christian group opposes public servants openly practicing their Christian faith, said one of the accused lawmakers.
Rep. Jerry Moran, from Kansas, said Tuesday that the complaint filed by the government watchdog group The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, was rooted in “a national effort to exclude matters of faith by public servants.”
The group said it asked the House and Senate ethics committees to look into whether the rent Moran and at least eight other members of Congress paid to live at the home was below market value. If it was, the group says, the discount could be considered an illegal gift.
The lawmakers, who include Republican Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, reportedly paid $950 to live in the home near the Capitol, which is owned by C Street Center Inc. and is affiliated with a Christian prayer group known as The Fellowship.
Moran, a Republican, said he began attending Bible study sessions at the home when he was first elected to Congress in 1996.
“I don’t think that my interest in studying the Bible with other colleagues of mine in Congress ought to be seen as anything but good or at least personal whether you think it’s good or bad it ought to be a decision I make as a member of Congress, as a human being,” he said.
Melanine Sloan, executive director of CREW, said the complaint is “not at all about religion.”
“It’s about fair market value of rent,” Sloan said. “That’s the issue. It’s a violation of the gift rule.”
Moran said rent at the home is based on sparse accommodations. He said he sleeps in a small bedroom on a bed he bought himself and that he shares a bathroom with other tenants.
Sloan said the house is valued at $1.8 million and is in a “fabulous location.” She said hefty rents would be needed to pay the mortgage.
“Spartan seems unlikely,” she said.
Brian Hart, a spokesman for Brownback, said last week that the senator lived at the home for less than a year before buying a condominium in 2003.
Also last week, a group called Clergy VOICE asked the IRS to investigate the tax implications of accepting lodging at the C Street house.