Senator Squatter? Heller Won’t Give Up Office Space

Posted March 10, 2013 at 6:30pm

Staffers for Sen. Dean Heller have been bullying other senators’ aides to protect the Nevada Republican’s space in the Russell Senate Office Building, CQ Roll Call has learned.

As part of the biennial Senate office lottery, junior members are obligated to show their office suites to more senior members, who then have 24 hours to decide whether to claim that space as their own. Heller’s office suite — which he inherited after the scandal-fueled resignation of Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev. — may be particularly attractive to other senators because its floor plan includes a larger-than-average member office.

Though special courtesies are usually extended to aides and members visiting offices, Heller staffers repeatedly tried to keep them from seeing the spacious member office, sources reported, saying meetings were ongoing and could not be interrupted.

Several Senate offices lodged complaints with the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, according to several sources familiar with the attempted visits to Heller’s office.

“This is beyond silly. We’re disappointed that this has become fodder for pettiness among staff members,” Heller spokeswoman Chandler Smith said. “Our office has worked hard to balance the busy and demanding work of running a Senate office, hosting meetings and greeting constituents while accommodating members and numerous staffers from nearly 20 offices who want to see the space.”

A visit from Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ staffers was particularly contentious, and the tension between the two offices only appears to have deepened in the weeks after the tour. When the Georgia Republican’s staff asked to see Heller’s suite, Chambliss had not yet announced his decision to retire in 2014. According to sources familiar with incident, Heller Chief of Staff Mac Abrams joked that Chambliss’ staff should ask Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., if he would like the suite. He also jokingly suggested that Heller would have to support any potential Broun primary bid if Chambliss took their office. (At the time, Broun was rumored to be contemplating a primary challenge, and he has subsequently announced he will run for the open seat.)

According to some sources told about the exchange, Heller’s chief of staff then offered $10,000 in campaign contributions from the senator’s PAC if Chambliss declined to take the suite. Heller’s office disputes this claim.

Another source familiar with the situation said a campaign contribution offer was made in jest. Abrams joked, according to this source, that Heller would give funds to Broun if Chambliss ousted Heller from the space. Another source corroborated this account. Those who believed the remarks to be a joke said no number was ascribed to the contribution, but $10,000 is the maximum a member PAC can give in one cycle to another member.

Heller’s staff believed at the time that both parties knew they were joking around and said the conversation appeared genial even after the joke was made. A source familiar with the conversation said it ended with Heller’s chief of staff mentioning their communications director is from Augusta, Ga., and would be happy to help with Chambliss’ campaign.

Still, Chambliss was so troubled by the incident that he personally spoke to Heller about it.

Heller’s office said they have been flexible in showing the rest of the suite, but that because of the senator’s schedule, his personal office has been difficult to show. One other office confirmed having difficulty in seeing the Heller space and bizarre behavior by his staffers. But a spokesperson for Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., who recently toured the office space, said there were “no problems whatsoever” and that it was a positive experience.

Chambliss’ office declined to comment for this story. A Rules panel spokesman also declined to comment on the allegations of bullying.

The Senate lottery process usually stretches from the time immediately after an election to the spring of the next Congress. In the 112th Congress, the process lasted until May 1 and there were 35 moves, which is the most in recent memory, according to a Rules Committee source. The average number of moves per Congress is about 20. This year the lottery is on pace to match last year’s schedule as members of the class of 2008 look at office spaces.

For now, however, Heller remains in Russell 361-A.