It's official: The C Street house is not a church

By Al Kamen
Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The famous rowhouse on C Street SE where disgraced South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford sought counseling after his affair -- as did Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) after his affair -- has begun paying D.C. real estate taxes, according to city officials.

Several members of the House and Senate live there, renting upstairs rooms from a group apparently affiliated with the "Fellowship," a secretive group that organizes the National Prayer Breakfast. Ensign, who recently moved out, lived in the tidy brick home. Sanford, when he was a member of Congress, used to come by for what he called "a Christian Bible study."

The Capitol Hill house is valued at $1.8 million. The downstairs is used for meals and prayer meetings, while the upstairs houses residents that recently included three House members as well as Ensign and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), our colleague Manuel Roig-Franzia reported in June.

It was there that Coburn, an obstetrician and gynecologist, met with Ensign's friend and former top aide, Doug Hampton, the husband of Ensign's mistress, for an emotional chat about forgiveness. Coburn reportedly advised Ensign to stop the affair but has said he would never reveal the details of those discussions, citing his religious privilege as an "ordained deacon" and his medical privilege as Ensign's OB-GYN.

This summer, the tax records show, the house paid no taxes because it received an E1, or religious, exemption. It was coded "89-Special Purpose-Misc," and it was classified for tax purposes as a commercial property. The owner, according to tax records, remains the same, "Youth With A Mission Washington DC Inc C St. Center." But that group says the property was transferred 20 years ago to C Street Center Inc. after YWAM concluded its activities in the city.

The property now is classified "TX-Taxable" and is listed as a residential property. The current property records also show that there was a tax payment of $1,714.70 on Oct. 21. The records page notes that "Only payments received on or after Jan. 14, 2005 are displayed on this page," so this may be the first tax payment.

It appears that, sometime after The Washington Post's article on the house, the city took a look at the situation. "The property in question was inspected by our office," a city official told our colleague Nikita Stewart, "and it was determined that portions are being rented to private individuals for residential purposes. As a result, the exemption was partially revoked and adjusted so that only 34 percent is now tax-exempt and 66 percent has become taxable."

The property "went 66 percent taxable Aug. 1," the official said, and the full taxable bill for 2010 will be $10,234. Now, maybe if the lawmakers would stop paying rent, then the property would be fully tax-exempt. Of course, then the members would be questioned about accepting free accommodations.

The Franken-Begala show

"What could be more exciting than a lunch in New York City with two of the Democratic Party's most sparkling personalities?" says a fundraising e-mail to supporters from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). Yes, here's your "chance to attend a lunch featuring Senator Al Franken of Minnesota and Paul Begala, the political commentator and former adviser to President Bill Clinton. Knowing Al and Paul, it's sure to be a truly entertaining event."

She's asking for "a contribution of as little as $5" and you'll be "automatically entered in a contest to win a free ticket to this event" on Nov. 30. Of course you're going to have to pay to get there. And it's a campaign lunch, so it's not like you're with them at a table for four. And Franken's been behaving himself so much he's been a huge disappointment. But, hey, it's only $5.

Hurry, though. Entry deadline is midnight, Thursday.

Wait over for Brainard?

There's buzz that the Senate Finance Committee is nearing the conclusion of its full audit of Treasury nominee Lael Brainard's tax returns -- the matter that's stalled her nomination at the committee for eight months.

Brainard was nominated in March to be undersecretary of the Treasury for international affairs but didn't get a hearing before the committee because of her tax "problems." (Curiously, her husband, Kurt Campbell, was nominated in April to be assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, had his hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and was confirmed by the Senate in June.) Brainard, however, ran afoul of the Finance Committee's now-legendary tax-audit procedures.

Among the findings by committee sleuths was a late payment Brainard made on her Virginia taxes for an old pickup truck. The tardiness caused the state to assess a modest late charge. The committee also took issue with a tax deduction that Brainard, a former top aide in the Clinton White House, took for a home office. (Loop Fans know better than to claim this -- it's a red flag for the green-eyeshade folks.) There may have been some questions as to how many square feet could be deducted.

In any event, the talk is that the conclusion of the investigation may mean that the committee is prepared to take up Brainard's nomination.

A new gig for Daschle

Former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle, whose bid for a Cabinet position in the Obama administration was derailed by unpaid taxes, has landed a job at mega-lobbying and law firm DLA Piper as a senior policy adviser and member of its global board. Daschle, who served nearly 30 years in Congress before leaving in 2005 to join the firm Alston & Bird LLP, would have been the point man for Obama's health-care reform effort.

Oddly enough, former House majority leader Dick Armey, now spearheading the opposition to health-care reform, left his senior adviser post at DLA Piper in August.

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