Mixed blessings

The story of the stately row house at 133 C St. in Washington, D.C. has been around for a while. The Washington Post last June wrote about what it described as a "shadowy religious organization" and its role in providing a home for a handful of conservative Christian congressmen. 

But, unless you watch the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC or read Ed Brayton's work online at The Michigan Messenger, you may not know all that much about the place or those involved in a scandal alleged to have occurred there. 

Last week, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed complaints with the Senate and House ethics committees alleging that current and former residents of the erstwhile convent paid below-market rates for rooms they rented in the $1.8 million dollar redbrick building. 

So, why is the Hits bringing this up? Because one of the U.S. reps named in the complaint is none other than Michigan's own Bart Stupak, a Democrat from the Upper Peninsula who gained much national attention for his proposed anti-abortion amendment to the just-signed health care bill. 

In addition to the CREW complaints, members of the multi-denominational group Clergy VOICE filed a complaint last week with the IRS asking for an investigation into the "tax implications of accepting lodging at the C Street house." 

Members of the same group had previously raised concerns that, although the redbrick building was being used to provide housing to a small bi-partisan group of lucky congressmen, it was listed on tax rolls as a tax-exempt church. 

"This potential abuse poses a threat to the religious and charitable integrity of legitimate houses of worship and the legislative integrity of the United States Congress," group members wrote in a letter to the IRS. 

In a press release, Stupak denied any wrongdoing.

"I no longer live at C Street, but while there I never received any subsidies toward my rent or living expenses," he claimed. "My living arrangements have always been, and continue to be, in full compliance with all the rules and regulations of the U.S. House of Representatives." 

The VOICE members and CREW allege otherwise, saying the congressmen paid just $950 a month to "live in a facility that is similar to a small hotel or bed and breakfast, with 12 furnished bedrooms, nine bathrooms and five living rooms. The living accommodations include housekeeping services provided by eight college-age volunteers and a 'house mother' ..." 

Located within a short walk of Capitol Hill, the home is located in an area where corporate housing goes for a "minimum of $4,000 per month and efficiency one-bedroom apartments typically go for at least $1,7000 per month." 

Other C Street current and former renters named in CREW's complaint were Sens. Sam Brownback, R-Kan.; Tom Coburn, R-Okla.; Jim DeMint, R-S.C.; and John Ensign (R-Nev.), and Reps. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn.; Mike Doyle, D-Pa.; and Heath Shuler, D-N.C. (Last year's revelations of Ensign's extramarital affair with a married top aide — and its messy aftermath — led to a scathing depiction of a group counseling session at the "elite conclave ... whose members are divinely chosen to lead.")

One thing that makes all this particularly interesting is the specter of a highly secretive group known as "The Family" or "The Fellowship," and its connection to the group that formally owns the C Street house. 

In an interview with the Michigan Messenger's Brayton last year, Stupak — who reportedly lived in the C Street house for at least seven years — flatly denied even knowing anything about the group that essentially served as his landlord. 

"I don't belong to any such group," Stupak told Brayton. "I don't know what you are talking about, [the] Family and all this other stuff." 

According to reports, members of the Family are required to take an oath of secrecy. At least one former member of the Family has said that Stupak was a mentor to younger members of the group. 

For CREW, the religious affiliations of those living at the C Street House isn't an issue. "Members of Congress are free to practice whatever religion they want," Melanie Sloan, CREW's executive director, tells News Hits. "But the rules for members of Congress are very clear, and they violated the rules." 

Others, though, are concerned about the influence wielded by a highly secretive religious organization that counts powerful politicians among its members. And you don't have to rely on critics to find testaments to the Fellowship's influence. 

David Kuo, who ran the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives during the administration of George W. Bush has said, "The Fellowship's reach into governments around the world is almost impossible to overstate or even grasp." 

Which is why members of VOICE, which is based in Columbus, Ohio, are stepping up and helping to shed a spotlight on this whole issue. As they wrote in their complaint: While it is central to the free exercise of religion that this nation has historically enjoyed that the church be protected from the state, we consider it our responsibility as members of the clergy to, in this particular instance, consider another central premise in the Founders' intent: that the state must also be protected from the church." 

Bless them for fighting to uphold that principle.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]
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