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Congressmen like Mark Sanford who sleep in their offices? 'It's almost nasty,' critics say

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U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C.File/Bruce Smith/AP

Congressmen who sleep in their D.C. offices — including Republicans from South Carolina — are under fire once again from Democrats irked over where they put their heads at night.

The bunking habit, they contend, is both an abuse of taxpayer funds and, as one Mississippi Democrat termed it, "almost nasty."

A letter from more than two dozen members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, is asking for an ethics review into the "legality and propriety" of members using their offices as overnight apartments.

U.S. Reps. Mark Sanford, R-Mount Pleasant; Trey Gowdy, R-Spartanburg; and Jeff Duncan, R-Laurens, are some of the South Carolina lawmakers known to have slept where they work.

“There’s something unsanitary about bringing people to your office who are talking about public policy where you spent the night, and that’s unhealthy, unsanitary — and some people would say it’s almost nasty,” Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the top Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee, told Politico, the first site to report the existence of the complaint.

Clyburn told The Post and Courier he saw the practice as a large-scale effort by some members to circumvent housing and tax burdens, and reinforces the mistaken belief in the public eyes that members of Congress get free housing and transportation as one of the many perks.

He pays $2,500 a month for a one-bedroom apartment, he said.

The notion of lawmakers sleeping in their offices is nothing new and dates back to the earliest days of the nation when travel was much more difficult and Washington wasn't nearly as large. It was notably rekindled in 1994 during the so-called "Republican Revolution" led by former Texas GOP Rep. Dick Armey.

The objective at the time as stated by GOP lawmakers, including Sanford, who was in his first stint in Congress, was that conservatives wanted to promote their thriftiness and to not become too comfortable with Washington's trappings.

Lawmakers, however, didn't go hygiene free as they set up cots or blew up air mattresses, using congressional gyms and other spaces for showering or getting started in the morning.

Sanford said the dispute sounds like deja vu. He remembers former Colorado Democratic Rep. Pat Schroeder raising the same issue decades ago. It fizzled.

"It's a constant reminder of where home is and where home isn't," Sanford said of living in his office.

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The advantage, in addition to not having to rent an apartment in Northern Virginia, is working longer hours, access to his files and computer, and not having to face D.C. traffic at all hours, he said.

Sanford sleeps on a futon he keeps behind an office couch.

Members of Congress make $174,000 per year.

Democrats contend the practice may violate House rules or even federal law.

“Members who sleep overnight in their offices receive free lodging, free cable, free security, free cleaning services, and utilize other utilities free of charge in direct violation of the ethics rules, which prohibit official resources from being used for personal purposes,” their letter to the Ethics Committee states.

The letter dates to December but became public this week.

Office-sleeping by House members is widely practiced, including by some of the House top leaders. Sanford cited House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., among those known to set up a bed in their offices overnight.

The total number of those who regularly sleep in their offices isn't certain but ranges at times between 40 to more than 100, according to some estimates. Participants are overwhelmingly male and Republican but some women and Democrats do it, too, Politico's tally said.

Clyburn said it's time to have a discussion and a ruling from government oversight groups on the habit.

One of the other criticisms opponents have listed in connection to office beds is that the behavior is beneath the dignity of Congress. Sanford disagrees.

"I think it would be wise for everyone to sleep in their office," he said.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 843-937-5551. Follow him on Twitter at @skropf47.

Political Editor

Schuyler Kropf is The Post and Courier political editor. He has covered every major political race in South Carolina dating to 1988, including for U.S. Senate, governorship, the Statehouse and Republican and Democratic presidential primaries.

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