The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington yesterday sent a letter to the Office of Congressional Ethics demanding an investigation into members sleeping in their offices. By CREW’s estimation at least 32 members — and as much as a fifth of the freshman class — save on rent and sleep on cots, air mattresses or couches in their federal offices whilst in DC.
Sure, most congressmen earn more than $100,000 a year, so you’d think they’d be able to afford at least a studio in Washington. But from that money they must provide for their families, pay for weekly flights home and maintain their residences in their districts. In other words, if you’re not already wealthy and live far from the East Coast, this could get expensive very quickly. Not to mention that it’s the cool, in thing to be seen as little invested as possible in Washington DC. So, an increasing number of members are proudly living like backpackers, showering at the gym and sustaining themselves on mini-fridges and hotpots in their offices.
Enter CREW, who feel that these frugal lawmakers are in violation of House rules.
The House Ethics Manual states “official resources of the House must, as a general rule, be used for the performance of the official business of the House.” This prohibition is derived from regulations of the House Administration Committee, contained in the Member’s Handbook, providing official resources may be used to pay “[o]nly expenses the primary purpose of which are official and representational. The Member Representational Allowance may only be used for official and representation expenses, it may not be used for personal expenses.”
I think members could make a decent case that staying out of bankruptcy, since they’re barred from holding other jobs, is probably in the best interests of the office – or at least to their chances of reelection to that office. But is that related to the “official and representational” responsibilities of the office? Debatable.
CREW makes a second point: that members are in violation of the tax code because their government-given parking spots are considered a taxable income – why, then, wouldn’t lodging? Of course, House buildings aren’t zoned as residences, but Congress also isn’t subject to the laws it passes, so there’s not much that can be done in terms of zoning or Occupational Safety and Health Administration transgressions. But, members are subject to the tax code making the point an interesting one in terms of interpretation of the law.
CREW also accuses the pajama bandits of breaking House Rule 23 requiring all members to conduct themselves “at all times in a manner that reflects creditably on the House.”
In is unseemly for members of Congress to sleep in House offices, thereby increasing the work of housekeeping staff and interfering with necessary maintenance and construction. It is also distasteful for members who sleep in their offices to wander the halls in sweat clothes or robes in search of a shower. Such conduct undermines the decorum of the House of Representatives.
Not to mention the potentially awkward moments working late with staff while getting ready for bed. That’s when things like tickle fights happen and we know where those lead.