Ethics Office Drops Probe of C St. House

Posted June 18, 2010 at 10:41am

Updated: 12:32 p.m.

The Office of Congressional Ethics has dropped its investigation into whether several Members of Congress received an improper gift in the form of below-market rent at a Capitol Hill townhouse, five of the lawmakers’ offices have confirmed.

Aides to Reps. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), Heath Shuler (D-N.C.), Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) and Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.) said Friday that each lawmaker received a letter from the OCE informing him that it closed the investigation.

Rep. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) told the AP that he received a letter from the OCE on Thursday with the same message.

“Based on all the information known during the preliminary review, the OCE Board found that there was not probable cause to believe the alleged violation occurred,” OCE Staff Director and Chief Counsel Leo Wise wrote, according to the AP.

An ethics watchdog group filed a complaint with the OCE in April, alleging that nine House and Senate lawmakers violated Congressional gift rules when renting rooms at a Capitol Hill townhouse known as the C Street House.

The house on C Street in Southeast D.C. is owned by a Christian organization known as the Fellowship, or the Family, which runs the annual National Prayer Breakfast. A handful of Members of Congress have lived there over the past several years, and there also are regular prayer meetings there for Members who do not live in the house.

In its complaint, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington cited news articles indicating that Members paid $950 a month to live at the C Street residence and argued that is far below market value for a living situation that more closely resembles a hotel than a private apartment. Citing news reports, CREW said the residents at C Street received maid and laundry service and occupied furnished rooms.

The group called for the OCE to review Shuler, Moran, Doyle, Wamp and Stupak.

CREW also called for the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), John Ensign (R-Nev.), Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Jim DeMint (R-S.C.). Each of the lawmakers has reportedly lived at the C Street house at various times since 2003.

It is not known if the Senate panel has opted to open its own inquiry. The Senate Ethics Committee does not publicly confirm or deny its investigations.

Coburn said last week he had not been contacted by the ethics committee and dismissed the complaint as nonsense.

The OCE, which is tasked with reviewing suspected rules violations and referring investigations to the House ethics committee, does not comment on its investigations or confirm whether it is examining specific complaints.

When the OCE abandons an investigation within the first 30 days of an inquiry, however, it is not required to issue a report to the ethics panel, and the probe is not released to the public.