WASHINGTON -- A government watchdog group filed an ethics complaint Thursday against federal lawmakers who make the U.S. House their home by sleeping in their offices.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington challenged the sleepover practice. An estimated 40 to 50 members of Congress, including Nevada Republicans Joe Heck and Dean Heller, camp in their suites.
The lawmakers appear to be violating House rules that say official resources can't be put to personal use, Melanie Sloan, executive director of CREW, said in the complaint submitted to the Office of Congressional Ethics.
Further, she said, office lodging should be considered a fringe benefit, with its value taxable as income, anywhere from $1,500 to $2,000 a month based on rents on Capitol Hill.
Plus, Sloan said, "It also is distasteful for members who sleep in their offices to wander the halls in sweat clothes or robes in search of a shower."
Over the years, a handful of House members have pulled out cots or slept on couches in their suites, trekking to the House gym to wash in the morning.
The ranks swelled this year with members of the large freshman class, some who say they camp out to save money and to send a message to constituents that they are not being co-opted by official Washington.
"There is nothing in the House rules that prohibits Members from sleeping in their offices," Bill Weidemeyer, the superintendent of House office buildings, told CBS News last month.
Heck, a freshman whose family remained in Southern Nevada and who said his decision to sleep in his office was prompted by cost considerations, said he will follow the rules whatever they are.
"If the ethics committee rules that members can no longer sleep in their offices, then I won't," Heck said. "I'll find a new place to sleep and come to work the next day still focused on creating jobs for Nevadans."
Heller's office did not comment.
Nevada's third U.S. House member, Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley, said Thursday she was wondering when someone was going to complain about it.
"I think it makes absolutely no sense, that this is a taxpayers' asset that is being abused by members of Congress. This is not your home," Berkley said. "We are making $170,000 a year and we can't afford accommodations? There are millions of our fellow Americans living on the streets right now. Why don't be just open up these offices and let the homeless sleep there?
Berkley said she was not singling out Heck or Heller for criticism.
"I just think the practice is indefensible. I understand that people with families that have no other income have challenges, there is no doubt about that. But I don't think the solution is abusing your office and taxpayer property."
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-783-1760.