A watchdog group is calling on the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate whether members of Congress who sleep in their offices are violating House ethics rules and tax laws by failing to report lodging as a taxable fringe benefit.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington wrote to the ethics office last week in response to press reports indicating 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 in a statement. "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-Okla.; John Carney, D-Del.; Steve Chabot, R-Ohio; Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah; Hansen Clarke, D-Mich.; Sean Duffy, R-Wisc.; Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn.; Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.; Chris Gibson, R-N.Y.; Tim Griffin, R-Ark.; Paul Gosar, R-Ariz.; Trey Gowdy, R-S.C.; Morgan Griffith, R-Va.; Luis Guittierez, D-ILL.; Richard Hanna, R-N.Y.; Joe Heck, R-Nev.; Bill Huizenga, R-Mich.; Bill Johnson, R-Ohio; James Lankford, R-Okla.; Dan Lipinski, D-Ill.; Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.; Patrick Meehan, R-Pa.; Ben Quayle, R-Ariz.; Mike Quigley, D-Ill.; Todd Rokita, R-Ind.; Bobby Rush, D-Ill.; Paul Ryan, R-Wisc.; David Schweikert, R-Ariz.; Steve Stivers, R-Ohio; John Sullivan, R-Okla.; Joe Walsh, R-Ill.; Todd Young, R-Ind.; and Tim Walberg, R-Mich.
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.
Lawmakers, on the other hand, contend that the salaries they make in Congress make it difficult to afford the rent on an apartment in the Washington, D.C., area, as well as payments on their family homes back in their congressional districts. They also say that sleeping in their offices enables them to work later for their constituents, and that they only sleep there during the days and weeks when Congress is in session.
However, the watchdog group contends that living in a congressional 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, according to CREW.
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, the group contends.
"Americans expect members of Congress to follow the tax laws just like everyone else,” said Sloan. “If legislators are going to treat their offices as dorm rooms, at the very least they should pay the appropriate taxes. 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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