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CREW adds Stupak to the list

April 1, 2010 - Jim Anderson
Earlier this week, it was Sean Hannity.

Now, it’s Bart Stupak.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which earlier this week filed IRS and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) complaints against Hannity’s Freedom Alliance, is now filing an ethics complaint against Rep. Stupak, D-Menominee.

(The complaints against Hannity and Stupak are unrelated. CREW describes itself as a non-partisan nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting ethics and accountability in government and public life. Critics, however, charge that its focus is harder upon the right than the left.)

The complaint against Stupak concerns the C Street house in Washington, D.C., where the congressman formerly lived. Stupak moved out of the house earlier this year because of the controversy surrounding it.

CREW alleges that Stupak and other members of Congress who reside or have resided at the C Street house paid below market rent in violation of congressional gift rules.

Also named in the complaints to the Senate Ethics Committee and the House Office of Congressional Ethics are Senators Sam Brownback (R-KS), Tom Coburn (R-OK), Jim DeMint (R-SC), and John Ensign (R-NV), and Representatives Mike Doyle (D-PA), Heath Shuler (D-NC) and Zach Wamp (R-TN).

According to CREW, the C Street house is affiliated with the Fellowship, “a shadowy religious organization.”

CREW cites recent press accounts indicating that members of Congress who live in the house pay $950 per month in return for lodging and housekeeping services. (Meals may also be available at an undetermined cost.) That compares to efficiency or one-bedroom apartments typically going for at least $1,700 per month in the Capitol Hill area, according to the complaint.

“At a time when so many Americans are losing their housing it is surprising to discover that some members of Congress are lucky enough to have a landlord that charges below market rent for fairly luxurious accommodations – and offers housekeeping and meal service to boot,” said CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan.

“Rarely does someone — particularly a member of Congress — receive something for nothing, so you can’t help but wonder exactly what these members may be doing in return for all of this largess. Of course, this is the reason the gift ban was enacted in the first place. This situation cries out for an immediate ethics inquiry.”

When Stupak moved out of the C Street house, he denied that living there detracted from his ability to serve in Congress. “At no point did renting a room at C Street influence any of my votes ...” he said.

(Stupak may now offer further statements, though he has so far declined to chat up C Street with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who brings up the subject most every show.)

As for CREW’s complaint against Hannity and Freedom Alliance — briefly reviewed in a previous post — here’s an update:

Freedom Alliance says the CREW charges have “absolutely no merit.” Hannity receives nothing from Freedom Alliance except its gratitude “for his personal generosity and for all he has done to help the troops and our organization.”

Meanwhile, at Salon.com, Joe Conason reports that Freedom Alliance has been guarded about releasing financial information.

Conason notes that The American Institute of Philanthropy (AIP) has given Freedom Alliance a grade of D for program efficiency in 2009, a grade of D in 2008, a grade of F in 2006 and a grade of F in 2005.

In answering inquiries from CREW during its investigation, an AIP official had this to say:

“Freedom Alliance has repeatedly failed to respond to our requests for financial information, which is why they are listed with ‘closed-book’ status in the AIP Guide. The closed-book status does not affect the letter grade we assign to a charity. However, many donors like to consider a charity’s willingness to be transparent when considering whether or not a given charity is worthy of their donation, so we list a charity’s open or closed-book status as additional information.”

As I’ve said, there’s nothing criminal about a charity appearing to be inefficient. The gist of CREW’s FTC complaint is that Fox host Hannity and concert partner Oliver North have engaged in deceptive marketing by boasting of the absence of overhead costs.

According to CREW, proceeds from the Freedom Alliance concert tours are actually controlled by Premiere Marketing, a Tennessee speakers agency that represents Hannity and North, and its president, Duane Ward.

 
 

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