Group objects to congressional bunkhouse | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Group objects to congressional bunkhouse

Posted By on Thu, Feb 10, 2011 at 11:12 AM

The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has formally objected to the practice of some 33 members of Congress — both Republican and Democrat and including U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin — of living in their offices in Washington rather than in private residences.

"House office buildings are not dorms or frat houses," CREW said. It asks whether the bunking is a violation of House rules or a violation of tax law by amounting to an unreported taxable fringe benefit. The news release notes that taxable income is imputed by members' reserved parking spaces, so why wouldn't bed space and housekeeping for live-ins be at least as taxable?

Members like Griffin should also declare the housing as in-kind campaign contributions. Griffin and others have used it as a symbolism of the penny-wise living (at taxpayers' expense).

NEWS RELEASE

Today, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) asked the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) to investigate whether members of Congress who sleep in their offices are violating House rules. CREW also asked the OCE to determine whether these members are violating tax law by failing to report lodging as a taxable fringe benefit. Press reports indicate that at least 33 members - 26 Republicans and 7 Democrats - have turned their offices into dorm rooms.

“House office buildings are not dorms or frat houses,” said CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan. “If members didn’t want to find housing in Washington, they shouldn’t have run for Congress in the first place.”
The list of members who sleep in their offices appears to include, but likely is not limited to:

Reps. Dan Boren (D-OK), John Carney (D-DE), Steve Chabot (R-OH), Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), Hansen Clarke (D-MI), Sean Duffy (R-WI), Stephen Fincher (R-TN), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Chris Gibson (R-NY), Tim Griffin (R-AR), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Trey Gowdy (R-SC), Morgan Griffith (R-VA), Luis Guittierez (D-IL), Richard Hanna (R-NY), Joe Heck (R-NV), Bill Huizenga (R-MI), Bill Johnson (R-OH), James Lankford (R-OK), Dan Lipinski (D-IL), Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Patrick Meehan (R-PA), Ben Quayle (R-AZ), Mike Quigley (D-IL), Todd Rokita (R-IN), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Paul Ryan (R-WI), David Schweikert (R-AZ), Steve Stivers (R-OH), John Sullivan (R-OK), Joe Walsh (R-IL), Todd Young (R-IN), and Tim Walberg (R-MI).

Superintendent of House office buildings Bill Weidemeyer has said that members sleeping in their offices adds some burden to the housekeeping staff and has made building maintenance more difficult since members complain they can’t sleep through the noise of construction.

Living in a House office violates the prohibition on using taxpayer resources for anything other than the performance of official duties. The Members’ Handbook states that the Member Representational Allowance may not be used for personal expenses.

Further, under the Internal Revenue Code, members who sleep in their offices are receiving a taxable benefit. The IRS treats lodging as a taxable fringe benefit unless it is offered on the employer's business premises, is for the employer's convenience, and is required as a condition of employment. As living in a House office clearly is not a condition of serving in Congress, members must pay taxes for imputed income based on the fair market value of their lodging.

Notably, members of Congress and congressional staff already have imputed taxable income based on the fair market value of their reserved parking spaces. If members must pay taxes to lodge their cars, surely they must pay taxes for their own lodging. “Americans expect members of Congress to follow the tax laws just like everyone else. If legislators are going to treat their offices as dorm rooms, at the very least they should pay the appropriate taxes,” said Ms. Sloan. “In any event, it brings discredit upon the House for members of Congress to sleep in House offices, making it more difficult for housekeeping, maintenance and construction crews to do their jobs. And really, who wants to run into a member of Congress in need of a shower wandering the halls in sweats or a robe?”

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