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Congressmen on office couches: a recipe for cheating?

Posted by Dante Ramos  February 11, 2011 03:10 PM

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An editorial in this morning’s Globe notes that a changing technological environment has multiplied the potential humiliation for political spouses. Exhibit A: Michele Lee, whose husband, Representative Christoper Lee, Republican of New York, abruptly quit Wednesday after the website Gawker made it clear he’d been trading racy email with a woman he met on Craigslist. But a second item in today’s paper (scroll down) further explains why the lot of congressional families keeps getting worse. It notes:

For years, at least a few lawmakers have slept on couches and cots in their offices to avoid long commutes or pricey Washington rents. Some see it as a badge of honor, a commitment to frugality and hard work, and a way to show constituents they do not consider Washington home.

Historically, members of Congress have moved their families to Washington (or Maryland or Virginia) — or at a bare minimum rented crash pads with other members. But sleeping in one’s office and commuting home every weekend — once a significant departure from the Washington status quo — is becoming routine for the latest crop of fiscally conservative lawmakers. The story goes on: “The [ethics watchdog] group cited media reports that more than 30 lawmakers, all men, are now doing it.... the real total could be as many as 40 or 50 after a wave of budget-conscious, anti-Washington freshmen won in November.”

But while keeping the family back home in the district may make sense politically, it’s tough on the spouses who are left behind. And it probably makes congressmen themselves more likely to, well, give in to temptation. There’s some evidence that people are more likely to cheat during business trips away from their spouses. The 2009 movie “Up in the Air” nicely captured the loneliness of the road warrior — and the lure of attractive strangers lurking in airport and hotel lounges. The temptation presumably multiplies for congressmen whose entire professional lives are one long business trip.

This issue may not apply, it should be noted, in the case of Chris Lee. None of the coverage I’ve seen specifies where the congressman’s wife and child were living, but a staffer quoted at the bottom of the Gawker item made reference to an apartment that Lee and his wife kept in Washington.

In any case, there’s been some speculation that House Speaker John Boehner is laying down a zero-tolerance policy for personal scandals. If so, he should urge his members to invite their families to Washington, instead of sleeping — ostensibly — on their office couches.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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