Mattressgate not much of a scandal

The good folks at CREW -- Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington -- are "dedicated to promoting ethics and accountability in government and public life by targeting government officials -- regardless of party affiliation -- who sacrifice the common good to special interests," the group's website notes.

That's a fine, worthy goal. Government watchdog groups such as CREW serve an important and laudable function in exerting pressure on elected officials to avoid the ethical temptations that accompany the trappings of power and fame. They also correctly demand that politicians be held accountable when they do.

But CREW's latest crusade seems odd, even persnickety.

Last week, the group went after members of Congress who seek to save on living expenses by sleeping in their offices on Capitol Hill. Singling out more than 30 House members -- including Nevada Republican Joe Heck -- CREW argues that living in a House office "violates the prohibition of using taxpayer resources for anything other than the performance of official duties." It also claims that these sleeping scofflaws are in violation of IRS regulations covering taxable benefits.

"House office buildings are not dorm rooms or frat houses," said Marla Sloan, the group's executive director. "If members didn't want to find housing in Washington, they shouldn't have run for Congress in the first place."


The notion that these members are misusing taxpayer resources is a stretch. Rep. Heck and his colleagues aren't costing taxpayers a dime by bunking at the office. Nor do their actions have any effect on the resource itself, which otherwise would sit unoccupied during the late night and early morning hours. Would Ms. Sloan argue that a congressman who eats lunch and dinner off his taxpayer-funded office desk has misused that piece of furniture?

As for the IRS allegations, this practice has existed for years and the agency hasn't seen fit to make an issue of it. And how, precisely, would the IRS measure the cost of this benefit? Who's to say that if forced to find lodging in the Washington area, some of these representatives couldn't live free with friends or relatives, or room together for virtually nothing at some flea bag motel in Arlington?

Most of those who now choose to sleep in their offices rather than at the Ritz-Carlton or some tony Georgetown condo do so because they believe it sends a message to their constituents about their work ethic, their commitment to fiscal responsibility and their attachment to the communities that elected them.

This is an ethos we should be encouraging in our elected officials, not criticizing.