On December 11, Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) amended his financial disclosure reports after he “failed to properly disclose millions of dollars in income from real estate, hedge funds and other investments since entering the Senate in 2007,” according to Brody Mullins in the Wall Street Journal.
The amendments were made after the Journal made inquiries about certain specifics on Corker’s disclosures. Corker called the omissions “filing errors.” From Roll Call today:
But for some government watchdog groups, this incident raises questions about what led to the discrepancies on Corker’s reports in the first place, and points to broader problems within the disclosure and congressional ethics process.
In 2007, Ken Boehm, chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center, co-wrote a letter to congressional leaders calling for changes to the financial disclosure process, including narrowing or eliminating the form’s value ranges.
“It’s important to know how much it was because that describes how big the possible offense was,” said Boehm, pointing to the broad ranges for both assets and incomes used in the current disclosure process.
Groups can call for new rules, Boehm said, but that won’t make a difference unless the Ethics Committee enforces them.
“If these ethics rules pertaining to financial disclosure reports are not enforced by the House and Senate Ethics Committees, respectively, then I still think you’re going to end up with a very weak record in terms of members of Congress who are inclined to break the rules,” Boehm said.
Omissions of required data from disclosure forms violate House and Senate rules, but what is often far more significant is the underlying activity that the omission may have been calculated to hide. The multimillion dollar scale of the Corker omissions is likely to invite scrutiny from journalists, watchdogs and political rivals.
In the case of Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), we found that the then-House Ways and Means Chairman was renting out his beach house in the Dominican Republic but not disclosing the income as required. This prompted more far-reaching questions about Rangel’s finances. In response, Rangel promised to amend his disclosure forms, which he did, and to release his tax returns, which he has never done.
When Rangel finally amended his disclosures, they showed hundreds of thousands in previously unreported income and assets. He did not explain how he accumulated the funds. We asked the Justice Department to investigate the source of the money, but there is no evidence an in investigation ever took place.
The case of former Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV), which the Justice Department did investigate, is even more egregious. In February 2006, we filed a 500-page Complaint with the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia alleging that Mollohan failed to report millions in assets on his disclosure forms in order to conceal cozy financial relationships with recipients of earmarks he had arranged.
Mollohan, a member of the Appropriations Committee, earmarked as much as $500 million to nonprofit groups founded and controlled by business partners, campaign contributors and former staffers.
Our allegations were first made public in a front-page Wall Street Journal story by the late John Wilke, who was awarded the 2007 Everett McKinley Dirksen prize for distinguished coverage of Congress by the National Press Foundation.
In February 2010, the Justice Department announced that it had ended its four-year probe, just after Mollohan voted for Obamacare. (The announcement consisted of a two-sentence press release.)
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) eventually pried loose Justice Department documents connected to the investigation. They indicated that Mollohan should have been indicted. From CREW's report on the documents:
According to the interviews, Rep. Mollohan was very skilled at making strategic land deals from which he stood to benefit personally and at surreptitiously moving money around to hide its source.
Also from CREW:
Rep. Mollohan knew how to transfer government money from these organizations to his own pocket or his family foundation.