CONGRESSThe nonpartisan ethics panel that served up charges last December against Rep. Pete Stark for allegedly receiving a $4,000 tax break on his Maryland home says the House ethics panel did not pursue the central issue of the case–whether the long-time congressman actually applied for the credit. The ethics committee cleared Stark of wrongdoing Jan. 28.
“What did Rep. Stark submit to Maryland authorities regarding eligibibility for the Homestead Tax Credit, both before and after news accounts questioning credits claimed by Members of Congress?” the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) asked Thursday in a four-page response to the House Ethics Committee’s scathing remarks against their referral of Stark’s case.
According to the OCE, the question is central and was not answered by the ethics inquiry. Instead, they say, the ethics committee focused on whether Stark actually received the tax credit, which he did not, according to the ethics committee’s January report. “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.”
However, the OCE says the committee failed to investigate whether he “willfully” sought the credit. The OCE asserts under Maryland law, it is a misdemeanor to provide “false answers to a property interrogatory.” The reports questions whether Stark came clean only after a Bloomberg News account in March of last year claimed Stark listed his Maryland home as his primary residence.
One of the more critical points of the House ethics committee’s rebuke of the Stark investigation last month was the charge Stark was unreasonably singled out while similar cases were dismissed. The OCE says three of the four members did not apply for tax credit, while a fourth did not certify they had voted in Maryland, which they assert Stark did; making him “unique among this group.”
The re-emergence of Stark’s year-long struggle with ethics charges came a day before the same House Ethics Committee charged House Ways and Means Committee Chair Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) with improperly receiving two trips to the Caribbean. Rangel also has additional ethics charges pending regarding tax breaks on rent-controlled apartments in Harlem and property in the Dominican Republic.
The ethics charges against two highest-ranking members of the Ways and Means Committee have been a subject of consternation among congressional Democrats who favor the chummy Rangel over the more rambunctious liberal champion from the East Bay. Speaker Nancy Pelosi told ABC News, Rangel’s violations were “not good.” Few believe the raspy-voiced lawmaker will be deposed in favor of Stark on the presitigious tax-making committee.
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