published Friday, April 2nd, 2010

Wamp, 7 others face ethics complaint

Audio clip

CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan

NASHVILLE — A government watchdog group on Thursday filed a congressional ethics complaint against U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., and seven other lawmakers, demanding an investigation into whether their rents at a Washington, D.C., townhouse are illegally subsidized by a religious group.

U.S. Rep. Health Shuler, D-N.C., is among other lawmakers included in the complaint, which says congressmen and senators appear to have received sharply discounted rents at the C Street Center, located only a short distance from the U.S. Capitol.

In a statement, Rep. Wamp, a Chattanoogan running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, said “this complaint is baseless because I pay fair market rent and my housing arrangements have always fully complied with the U.S. House of Representatives rules and regulations.”

Efforts to reach Rep. Shuler’s office were unsuccessful.

Melanie Sloan, executive director of the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said her group filed the complaint “because members of Congress appear to be violating the gift rule by taking reduced, below-market rents from the C Street Center Inc.”

Ms. Sloan said the C Street Center is affiliated with The Family or The Fellowship, which she described as a “very secretive religious organization.”

Congress’ gift ban, Ms. Sloan said, makes exceptions for a lawmaker accepting lodging out of a personal friendship with an individual, but it can’t be accepted if offered by a group and also can’t be accepted if offered simply because they are in Congress. Only lawmakers are invited to live at C Street, she said.

In a recent interview, Rep. Wamp, who has lived at C Street since at least 2002, said, “I’d say that a lot of the members of Congress don’t know any more about their landlord than I know about this foundation and their tax exempt status. So unless you want to do an expose on 435 members, then in my opinion, we’re kind of being singled out.”

A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., told Fox News the charges were part of a “witch hunt.”

Both The Fellowship, which is involved in the National Prayer Breakfast, and C Street residents found themselves shoved into the national limelight last year. That came following controversies in which a then-C Street dweller, U.S. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., and a former visitor to the house, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, became embroiled in separate adulterous affairs.

A separate complaint filed Monday on behalf of a group of Ohio ministers with the Internal Revenue Service cited reports stating fees to live at the nine-bedroom 133 C St. house were $950 a month, which included housekeeping services.

The group, Clergy Voice, said in its complaint that the Capitol Hill Suites, located about a block from the C Street Center, charges between $149 to $259 a night or $4,500 to $7,500 a month. It said a survey of Capitol Hill area “efficiency” or one-bedroom apartments were “were generally in the range of $1,700.”

The group stated that its tax attorney said if C Street charges below-market rates and the congressmen are not including its value in their taxable income, “then the members may have significant unreported income tax liabilities.”

This is the group’s second complaint involving C Street. The first one challenged the C Street Center’s IRS tax exemption as a church, calling it “an exclusive club for powerful officials ... masquerading as a church.”

Rep. Wamp said his base rent, excluding food and other expenses, was $600 a month. That has been unchanged for years, but he noted he moved into a smaller room with no bathroom. He now spends about six to seven nights a month at the residence, he said.

“I have an eight-by-ten room with no closet,” the congressman said. “I have to walk to the other end of the house to use a bathroom.”

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
stonefort said...

The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics is a godless liberal media organization who pound our christian beliefs into the ground everyday…it is a form of evil we see in reporting truths today.

April 2, 2010 at 10:20 a.m.

Amen so true. It is a fact that if that Progressive group went after their own kind in Washington, we, the taxpayers could save billions of dollars. Instead, this is just another chapter in the book of Demonize the Repubs, the Christian conservatives and the Teapartiers. Leave Charlie Rangel, Eric Holder, Pelosi, Reid, Chuck Schumer et al alone. If Repubs try to save us money they are demonized and expected to resign. The Dems-never. They are given bouquets and 50-60 year seats in the House. Welcome to the New world order, Fascism in the US of A.

April 2, 2010 at 10:41 a.m.
mrnicecat said...

Watchdog group are very important. They keep any one group from gaining control based on religious beliefs. They save us all from being under the thumb of fanatics and religious terrorists. As far as Stoneforr saying "our religious beliefs" is he saying all people are of the christian thought. I think not. As far as being christian goes here is only one other religion that has ever terrorised the world and executed simple because others do do not believe as them, are musllims. They are not as extreme as christians down thru history. This article is good because it shows that these men and women in congress are under watch and they must perform as the servents they are of the public. To make law that is good for all not just a select few.

April 2, 2010 at 10:46 a.m.
mrnicecat said...

Canary....if you read the articke with your glasses on you would have noticed there were democrats listed to. Please do try and not change the meaning of the article which is...they are taking cheap rent under market value. Whickj is forbidden.

April 2, 2010 at 10:50 a.m.
mrnicecat said...

I need spell check.

April 2, 2010 at 10:51 a.m.

mr "nice". You need glasses too or a good reading course. I read the article and wasn't refering to IT. I was referring to the Citizens of R and E Group...they like many Progressive-Leftists in our media, and in our so-called "watchdog" groups are biased one way only, NOT looking out for we, the people. And you need to understand the freedoms we have under our Constitution and the laws of the land. We are INNOCENT until proven guilty, so don't be so hasty in condemning our Christian Reps until they are tried and hanged by their toes. Otherwise, you might be seen as a biased Leftist, no?

April 2, 2010 at 11:18 a.m.
frettfull said...

--"U.S. Rep. Health Shuler, D-N.C., is among other lawmakers included"(2nd paragraph) Does this mean we can have Heath-care reform?

April 2, 2010 at 12:15 p.m.
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