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In Bobby Rush Case, Was the Rent Too Darn Low?

The House Ethics Committee will continue to review allegations against Rush, right. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
The House Ethics Committee will continue to review allegations against Rush, right. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

If the landlord never asks you for rent, do you still owe?  

In 1989, Rep. Bobby L. Rush moved into an office space in Chicago’s South Side, while the Democrat was serving as an alderman on the city council. He has stayed there — rent-free — ever since, racking up $365,040 in unpaid rent, according to an Office of Congressional Ethics report made public Monday.  

The House Ethics Committee simultaneously announced it will continue to gather facts in the case, without launching a formal investigation. The 11-term lawmaker told OCE that he has never paid rent for use of the office space, and that he has never been asked to pay rent. However, Rush told OCE that he understood that, before joining Congress in 1993, rent was paid by the City of Chicago for his service as an alderman. Since then, Rush has used the office for Cook County political ward meetings, meeting with prospective candidates in his capacity as Illinois Democratic Party Central Committeeman, and a gathering place to watch election returns.  

Rush told the OCE that he has never received any communications from the landlord that rent was due and that he believed his presence in the space served some “benefit” to the landlord because his “name was on the door,” according to OCE. He and his campaign staff also acknowledged only incidental use of the space.  

Based on OCE’s interviews with Rush, a campaign staffer and a campaign volunteer, the quasi-independent office is recommending that the Ethics Committee review the office rental space to determine whether the congressman’s state and federal campaign committees accepted free rent as a form of in-kind contribution, violating state and federal law and House rules. In the 20-page report, OCE compares the allegations to the 2010 House vote to censure Rep. Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y., who was found to have used a rent-stabilized apartment for his campaign office, among other violations.  

Rush, who cruised into a 12th term with the support of 72 percent of his heavily-Democratic district on Nov. 4, stated he is committed to working with the bipartisan panel as they sort through the facts.  

“I remain hopeful that the Committee will work with me on a mutually agreeable resolution of the remaining matter outlined in the report and will take into account my cooperation from the outset as well as my willingness to adhere to any guidance that House Ethics has made, or will make, available to me,” Rush said in an email statement to CQ Roll Call.  

“As I have stated previously, I fully respect the confidentiality of the House Ethics Committee and its process. I greatly appreciate its professionalism and fairness, and it is my hope that the committee will continue to work toward a mutually agreeable resolution,” he continued. “I will continue to work on behalf of the outstanding citizens of the 1st Congressional District of Illinois.”  

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