ATLANTA -- With all eyes on Washington over the budget and
the recent government shut down, we, at 11Alive, thought this might be a good
time to hold our Georgia Congressmen accountable over how they are controlling
their own budgets.
Money's tight, times are tough and people all over are
looking for ways to save money but are local Congressmen doing everything they
can to pinch pennies on their district offices.
According to the Members' Congressional Handbook - 'There is
no limit on the number and size of district offices a Member may
establish'. But one watchdog group
points out that just because they can, doesn't mean they should. We also
found, that in some cases, Congressmen are paying rent to campaign contributors.
"There's lots of space in here," said 11Alive Investigative Reporter, Ross McLaughlin, as he peered into Congressman Tom Price's (R-District
6) district office.
"I'm with 11Alive Do you mind if we take a tour of your
office?" McLaughlin asked.
"Sure. Let me go grab
our district director," said an office worker.
Because after analyzing what Georgia Congressmen are paying
for their district offices, we discovered some from both parties stood out
above the rest.
INTERACTIVE MAP | Find all 14 Georgia Congressmen's lease payments by clicking here. Some are renting as many as 3 district offices, while others like John Barrow access local government offices to save money.
"You're welcome to come in," said Andy Phelan, Communications
Director at Congressman Hank Johnson's ( D- District 4) office.
We found their office lease rates by looking at thousands of
pages of public records for all 14 Georgia Congressmen. The rents, to a single
landlord, ranged from $800 to more than $5,000 a month. Lease rates
can vary depending on location, building and condition but two stood out -
Democrat Congressman Hank Johnson at $5,825 a month, in Lithonia and
Republican Tom Price, at $5,000 a month, in Roswell.
"They have an
obligation to be frugal," responded Chris Farrell from Judicial Watch, aconservative DC watchdog group. He says
Congressmen need to set an example.
"Just because the
money's available doesn't mean it should all be spent," Farrell told 11Alive.
"What do you think
taxpayers will think when they see that list and they see your name at the
top?" McLaughlin asked Congressman Johnson.
"They will determine for themselves whether we are being
good stewards of the taxpayers' money," Johnson replied.
"We got a conference room," Phelan said as he gave us a tour
of the office.
He showed us 3,830 square feet for Hank Johnson's 10
district office workers.
Congressman Price has 3,782 square feet for his 6 district office
A researcher, at a global real estate firm, told us the average professional office space, these days, is about 170 square feet per employee. Congressman Price's office has 630
square feet per employee, nearly 4 times as much. Johnson's office, at 383
square feet per employee, is twice as much.
"When thousands and thousands of feet of office space are
rented for a handful of employees, that's not what the public is expecting," Farrell
said, when hearing about the amount of space being rented.
"At the time, I will
tell you, when we secured this office it was the best deal that was available
that was suitable for our needs," Congressman Johnson said while explaining his
decision to lease the space.
We tried to talk to Congressman Price about his space. His
spokesperson sent us an email stating: 'last year a decision was made to
downsize our operation from two offices to one.' The email also pointed out that the Chief Administrative Office approves all leases. But when we looked at the
numbers for rent in 2011, Price was paying $2,564 a month. Now it's almost
double and how about Hank Johnson?
"Would you think you
could find a better deal if you looked now?" McLaughlin asked the representative.
He could. Johnson is in Class 'B' office space, while that
type of space is limited in Lithonia, we found a building 3 miles away, about 450 square feet smaller, for $400
less a month. Or he could step down into a class 'C' space at a nearby shopping center, for $2,985 a month - it would save taxpayers $34,000 a year.
Congressman Price is also in a class 'B' space, all inclusive. We found
similar class 'B' space, less than 3 miles away, at $3,700 a month -everything included;utilities, janitorial and maintenance. That'd save
taxpayers more than $15,000 a year.
Here's something else we learned, both Congressman received
campaign contributions from their current landlords prior to moving in.
"There's a perception that can be created or exist that in
some way there's favoritism," Farrell said.
There are no laws against renting space from a campaign
contributor but another DC watchdog group - Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, CREW, told 11Alive, 'Anytime a member of Congress is
renting space from a campaign contributor or a friend, red flags are raised.'
Since 2010 Congressman Price has received $17,520 in
campaign contributions from his landlord - $12,320 of that before moving into
his new office.
Congressman Johnson received $1,500 from his landlord before
moving into his new space.
make any difference to your decision to stay in this place?" McLaughlin asked
"No they did not," responded
He believes the amount of campaign money Congressman Price
received from his landlord is much more significant.
"It certainly would raise more questions than a $1,500
contribution," said Johnson, referring the money Tom Price has received. "If
you were here not talking to me. You would be talking to Tom Price."
"And we're going to be talking to Tom Price. We didn't treat
anybody any differently," McLaughlin responded.
We reached out to Congressman Price 7 times, visiting his
office, emailing and calling about our story, but Congressman Price, who is
Vice Chairman of the House Budget Committee, did not want to talk to us.
"If the Congressman is dodging you, it's shameful,"said
Judicial Watch's Chris Farrell.
We had to dig into our archives for his thoughts about
In 2011 Price was recorded saying, "We need to structurally
change and fundamentally change the way Washington spends money."
"Our greatest concern
is that our public officials be accountable. They owe the public not only their
service but their best judgment and their discretion," Farrell told us.