Sabrina Eaton

Congress Members Should be Barred From Sleeping in Their Offices, Rep. Marcia Fudge Says

WASHINGTON - House Speaker Paul Ryan does it. Dozens of other Congress members including several Ohioans also sleep in their U.S. House of Representatives offices as a way to save money and spend more time on the job.

But a group of Congressional Black Caucus members that include Ohio's Marcia Fudge and Joyce Beatty are condemning the practice as inconsiderate, unsanitary and a violation of House ethics rules that ban personal use of congressional resources.

"When you are cutting benefits to the poor, the mentally ill, to education, to housing vouchers, to veterans housing, why should you sleep for free in a public building?" asks Fudge, a Warrensville Heights Democrat.

Fudge says 50 to 100 members of Congress sleep in their offices. She and her like-minded colleagues want the House Ethics Committee to issue a public opinion on whether the practice violates federal laws or House of Representatives rules. They note that the parking spaces members of Congress are issued are treated as "taxable compensation," but the free lodging that some receive is not.

"Members who sleep overnight in their offices receive free lodging, free cable, free security, free cleaning services and utilize other utilities free of charge in direct violation of the ethics rules," says a complaint letter sent to the Ethics Committee by 30 members of Congress, including Fudge and Beatty, a Columbus-area Democrat.

Their complaint says sleeping in congressional offices is "disrespectful and inconvenient" to the facility's housekeeping staff, and creates a "hostile work environment" for congressional staffers who work late and early hours.

"Staff members and other House employees are subjected to seeing and at times interacting with Members in their sleeping attire, underwear, and even partially nude," the complaint continues. "This is intimidating and offensive."

The Ethics Committee has not responded to her group's Dec. 13 letter, says Fudge. The committee's staff director, Tom Rust, last week declined to comment on their complaint.

A similar complaint filed in 2011 by the non-partisan government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) also didn't get a response, says the group's former executive director, Melanie Sloan.

"They never want to opine on anything," said Sloan, who filed the CREW complaint and is now a senior adviser to another watchdog group called American Oversight. "There is no doubt in my mind that staffers have been faced with uncomfortable moments when they came in and found members of Congress in states of undress."

Sloan, a former House Judiciary Committee staffer, said congressional employees don't usually want to publicly complain about their bosses' behavior. Several months ago, she publicly described inappropriate conduct by her former boss on Capitol Hill - Michigan Democratic Rep. John Conyers - although her complaints did not involve Conyers sleeping in his office. Conyers subsequently resigned from Congress.

Dozens of House of Representatives members - including several from Ohio - currently sleep in their offices or have done so in the past. Ohio's past and present office-sleepers said they disagreed with the complaints raised by Fudge's group. And House Speaker Paul Ryan has acknowledged sleeping in his office, describing it as "a convenience factor," since members of Congress "work until about midnight, and we get up early in the morning."

"It's convenient and I can get a lot more work done," agreed Cincinnati-area Republican Rep. Steve Chabot, who sleeps on a cot in his office. "You don't have to take the time to travel back and forth."

Miami County Republican Rep. Warren Davidson, who slept in his office during his first six months on the job but stopped because he needed more space, says he regarded sleeping in his office as a sacrifice rather than a benefit of the sort described by Fudge.

Champaign County Republican Rep. Jim Jordan said he slept in his office for years, but got an apartment after his wife began to accompany him to Washington more often. Jordan disagrees with claims that sleeping in the office is unpleasant for staff members, or amounts to an untaxed benefit for members of Congress. He said doing it is "an efficiency thing."

"You're here, you work all day, you pull out the cot, sleep, get up, go shower, get back at it," said Jordan. "I saw it as an efficient way to get some work done for the constituents of the district."

Bowling Green Republican Rep. Bob Latta, who was previously listed as someone who sleeps in his office, would not comment on whether he still does so.

"I think these are questions that have been submitted before and there has never been any finding that there was an ethical issue," Latta said of Fudge's complaints.

Columbus-area GOP Rep. Steve Stivers - who has previously acknowledged sleeping in his office - did not respond to an emailed request for comment on the practice.

The rest of Ohio's Congress members don't sleep in their House offices, they and their spokesmen say.

Niles-area Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan's spokesman, Michael Zetts, says his boss "believes congressional offices are for professional operations and not personal housing." He said Ryan shares an apartment with another member of Congress, and his previous congressional roommates included Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

Fudge says she pays mortgages on residences she maintains in Ohio and Washington. She says Washington is one of the nation's most expensive places to live, and that she paid $1,400 a month in rent on a 550-square-foot apartment when she came to the city in 2008.

"People who live in their offices complain about the cost of living in two places, but it is a burden for me as well," said Fudge. "All of us knew the salary before we came here. They either need to do something about our salaries, or do something about a housing allowance if they think they can't live on this salary."

She said the Congressional Black Caucus decided to file the complaint because it feels that the Ethics Committee always comes down hard on caucus members, but ignores violations by others.

"Everyone should be treated the same," she said. "They can't enforce some rules, but not others."

If the Ethics Committee doesn't act, Fudge says she will probably sign on to legislation to bar the office sleeping practice that is being drafted by California Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier.

Speier describes it as "a gift of public funds" for members of Congress who live in their offices to get free laundry, free cable, free gas and electricity. She noted that members of Congress are paid approximately $175,000 each year, and accused office sleepers of feathering their nests with tax dollars.

She suggested the Congress could create a per diem housing allowance for members of Congress, or let members sleep in a dormitory that was once used for pages.

"We will cut funding to HUD for homeless people, but we've got homeless members of Congress sleeping in their offices," said Speier. "Offices are business environments, not residences. It is truly presumptuous for members to think they can turn their offices into sleeping accommodations."