Rep. Bobby Rush (D., Ill.) has been ordered to pay $13,000 to the U.S. Treasury from his own pocket for improperly receiving free office space for nearly 27 years, according to the House Committee on Ethics.
Rush, who was elected to Congress in 1993, first began renting office space at the Lake Meadows Shopping Center in Chicago, Ill., in 1989 when he was serving as an Alderman in the city. Rush was under contract for a one-year lease with rent costing $1,126.49 per month.
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However, Rush was not making any of the rent payments for the office space. Draper and Kramer, the company Lake Meadows had put in charge of day-to-day activities, including rent collection, attempted to get the payments from Rush, whose unpaid rent had compounded to almost $15,000 by the fall of 1990.
Despite the back payments, Draper and Kramer did not issue a letter of eviction or threaten legal action to collect the rent. Instead, the company sent Rush a letter stating his one-year lease was about to expire and that the lease would then switch over from yearly to month-to-month. Rush did not recall receiving this letter, even though it was sent to his personal residence.
In the mid-1990s—after Rush had been elected to Congress—a senior member at Draper and Kramer instructed the individual who oversaw the Lake Meadows Shopping Center to halt all collections attempts from Rush.
"This tenant [Representative Rush] owes $25,272.10 in rent and charges. The last rental payment was made in June 1997. In light of the political issues associated with this tenant, how do we want to proceed?" an internal Draper and Kramer memo from 1999 reads. The author and recipient of the memo were unable to explain the meaning of "political issues" in this context to the committee. The committee said they could not find evidence that Rush had provided any assistance to the group.
Rush told the Ethics committee that for years he had been using the unit to store "junk" and "essentially worthless" items and estimated that he used the office space 5 days per year. The committee concluded that Rush had exceeded the framework of the Gift Rule by $14,610 between 1993 and 2008.
"This is a substantial sum, and the Committee recognizes, as it has in other matters, that requiring repayment imposes a burden on the Member," the committee said. "However, in these circumstances and in light of its precedents, the Committee has no other option. Under the Committee's precedents and the clear requirements of the Gift Rule and federal law, a Member may not retain, and must return, any gift in excess of what the rules allow. In this case, that means Representative Rush must repay the value of the free office space he received. In doing so, Representative Rush must use personal funds, as the gift was made to Representative Rush personally, and was not meant to be, and did not carry any indicia of, a campaign contribution."
Rush, who was ultimately ordered to pay $13,310 to the U.S. Treasury from his personal funds for the improper gift, referred to it a "relatively minor issue" in a press release provided by his office.
"The rare use of the essentially abandoned office space was related to my role as a party official, but I accept the Ethics Committee's recommendation that I take personal responsibility for paying the U.S. Treasury," Rush said. "From the time this inquiry first arose in 2013, I have fully cooperated with and appreciate the professionalism shown by the Office of Congressional Ethics and the Committee on Ethics. As the report shows, there has been no real use of the space for many years. I have already cleared out the space and I am glad to put this matter behind me. My focus remains on continuing to help my constituents by bringing federal resources to the 1st Congressional District of Illinois and working to solve the many problems facing our district and nation."
In an unrelated incident, Rush was sued for failing to make payments on a $1 million loan he secured to go towards a church he founded.
A judge last week ordered a 15 percent wage garnishment of Rush's congressional salary to repay the loan.