The ethics group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has sent a letter to the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) outlining what they see as an abuse of taxpayer money – members of Congress sleeping in their offices.
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 organization also offers some legal and financial opinions as to why bunking inside the offices might be more than just a way to reduce commute time to several seconds.
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.
Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, has made sleeping in his office a significant part of his public image. His nocturnal habits have been documented by local and national news outlets, and he even has a recurring YouTube feature called “cot side chats.”
He is one of many lawmakers named in the letter.
I realize that I could have made any number of bed, pillow, spring or napping related jokes, but in deference to our readers and to keep this post short, I decided not to.
Feel free to post your own puns in the comments section.