Watchdog Calls for Probe Into Lawmakers' Bargain Rent at 'C Street House'

A Washington watchdog group has filed a complaint accusing as many as eight members of Congress of paying below-market rent to live in "C Street House," a Capitol Hill townhome that is well-known for its connection to two recent political scandals.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington on Thursday filed complaints calling for investigations with both the House and Senate ethics committees.

The allegations center on C Street House, just a few blocks from the Capitol. The secretive home, which is run by a religious organization called the Fellowship, counts several prominent Christian lawmakers from both parties among its residents.

CREW, citing a recent report pegging the lawmakers' rent at $950 per month, claims they are paying well below market rates of nearly double that for the Capitol Hill area -- though the residents deny the allegations.

Director Melanie Sloan said that such discounted lodging would count as a prohibited gift.

"It's a violation," she said.

The only exceptions would be if the lawmakers were having their expenses provided by a personal friend or if they were benefiting from "personal hospitality." Sloan said neither is the case.

"I think it's considerably below market, particularly when you add in the housekeeping services," she said, questioning the exclusivity of the location. "You have to be invited, and only members of Congress seem to be those people."

The complaint names Sens. Sam Brownback, R-Kan.; Tom Coburn, R-Okla.; Jim DeMint, R-S.C.; and John Ensign, R-Nev., as well as Reps. Mike Doyle, D-Pa.; Heath Shuler, D-N.C.; Bart Stupak, D-Mich.; and Zach Wamp, R-Tenn.

Not all of those lawmakers still live at the house. Ensign reportedly moved out late last year. Doyle and Stupak also said they no longer live in the house but that while there, the rent was fairly assessed.

Coburn spokesman John Hart told that the CREW complaint was bogus.

"It's a witch hunt," he said. "Anyone who spends 10 minutes on Craigslist will realize they're getting a fair market deal," he said. Hart confirmed the average rent is about $950, but said the tenants share living and bathroom space and have "very limited" housekeeping services.

"There's nothing glamorous about 50-year old congressmen sharing a bathroom," he said.

The home is assessed at $1.8 million. Its connection to Ensign as well as South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford brought it into the spotlight last year after both politicians confessed to extramarital affairs.

Sanford reportedly went to the home to seek guidance. The home was also reportedly the site of a 2008 meeting between Ensign and the husband of the staffer with whom he was having an affair. Coburn reportedly acted as a mediator for that meeting.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.