The House Ethics Committee has cleared Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, of any wrongdoing in regards to a tax break related to the home he owns in Maryland. In doing so, the committee’s report issues a smackdown to the independent, nonpartisan Office of Congressional Ethics (created by the House but run by a board of private citizens), which had pursued the investigation.
From the report’s executive summary:
The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) has alleged that Representative Fortney “Pete” Stark violated Maryland criminal tax law and ethics rules of the House of Representatives by intentionally filing a false application for a Maryland property tax credit.
The evidence clearly establishes that Representative Stark did not receive a tax credit as a result of filing an application for the credit. The evidence also establishes that he did not file a false application for the Maryland property tax credit.
Representative Stark did not seek out the Maryland property tax credit. The State of Maryland required every homeowner in Maryland to fill out a form to determine their eligibility for the tax credit.
Therefore, Representative Stark did not violate House ethics rules. Nor did he run afoul of Maryland’s criminal or tax laws.
The summary goes on to say that the Ethics Committee concludes “that OCE conducted an inadequate review, the result of which was to subject Representative Stark to unfounded criminal allegations,” and that “(i)t’s apparent from OCE‟s work that they treated Representative Stark inconsistently with the way they treated four other Members of Congress with similar situations whose cases were properly dismissed.”
When I wrote about this issue 10 months ago, Stark explained thus: “I’ve owned this house I believe since 1988 … and I believe I’ve had this exemption all that time. In ‘07, Maryland changed their law and said if people were going to get the principal residence deduction, they had to affirmatively apply and be approved. Prior to that, I had never heard from them.”
“So in January, I got a form and it asked those questions: Do I live in this house more than six months a year and over a period of July 1? The answer is yes. Do I file Maryland and federal income tax from this address? Yes. Do I vote at this address? No. Do I have my driver’s license here? No.”
Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution says a member of Congress must “when elected, be an inhabitant of that state in which he shall be chosen.” Stark – elected to the House in 1972, and now second-ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee as well as chair of its influential Health Subcommittee – said he rents a townhouse in Fremont fpr when’s back here in his district to satisfy that constitutional requirement; he’s registered to vote at, and uses the mailing address of, his in-laws’ San Lorenzo home so that they can keep track of his mail when he’s out of town and so the occasional “crazy” doesn’t arrive on his doorstep.
“If I owned a house in California, there’s no way I could’ve taken the principal residence deduction here” in Maryland, Stark said last year. “But my guess is we spend two-thirds of the time here, my kids go to school here in Maryland. By any definition of where I spend most of the time, it would be in the Washington, DC area – this is where I work.”
Stark now says the OCE seems to “comb through the press, and I’m pretty sure this came from a Bloomberg guy who was pretty sure he had a Pulitzer Prize, I guess, on putting me away.”
“When the Ethics Committee got the OCE report, I had to hire a lawyer – which is kind of a pain – to deal with it formally,” he added. “But they were just trying to make a case where no case existed, as I think this report will show.”
Lots more on how OCE and Ethics Committee probes work, after the jump…