The House Ethics Committee cleared Rep. Pete Stark of allegations he received improper tax breaks on his Maryland home. The report issued today ends speculation on the exact charges Stark was facing while sharply criticizing the independent committee created by the House for its handling of the matter.
The 123-page report dismissed allegations first made in a March 2009 article published by Bloomberg News that Stark violated House ethics rules prohibiting gifts or favoritism derived from his position. The committee found Stark did not receive nearly $4,000 in Homestead Tax Credits from ownership of his Maryland home.
According to the report, property owners in Maryland had received a tax break since 1977 when their property tax rose more than 10 percent in a given year. It goes on to say homeowners automatically received the tax break without applying for it until 2007 and says many residents were unaware of the discount. Through tax records, the committee found Stark never received the credit until 2007-2009. It also found he did not seek the tax break and electronically submitted a one-time application to the state this year.
“Maryland did not grant a Homestead Tax Credit to Rep. Stark as result of the application. His tax bill, which was issued in July 2009, reflected that Rep. Stark received no tax credit whatsoever, ” the committee concluded, but also took aim at the Office of Congresssional Ethics (OCE)for “an inadequate review, the result of which was to subject Rep. Stark to unfounded criminal allegations.”
The Ethics Committee report also criticized the OCE for omitting similar charges levied against four other House members. The OCE dismissed in August investigations against Reps. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and Stark, but focused again on the long-time East Bay congressman when it announced Dec. 24 it would direct the invesigation to the House Ethics Committee.
“It is apparent from OCE’s work that they treated Rep. Stark inconsisently with the way they treated four other members of Congress with similar situations whose cases were properly dismissed,” the report says.
Stark is the second-ranking member of the powerful tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee and has taken a higher profile in recent months attempting to pass health care reform in Congress. Amid a slew of ethics violations against Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), the ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee, some moderate Democrats and Republicans expressed discomfort with the sometimes caustic Stark gaining the gavel of one of the most prestigious and powerful positions in the Capitol.
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