Ethics office reviewed tax records of four House members

Friday, October 30, 2009; 10:06 AM

The Office of Congressional Ethics reviewed the tax records of at least four House members this year, after news reports suggested that they had received tax credits from Maryland for declaring their homes in the state to be their primary residences. The office appears to have ended its analysis in August without taking any disciplinary action.

Reps. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) and Pete Stark (D-Calif.) were reported to have received the tax break, which can be worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Stark, for example, saved close to $4,000 in state and county taxes by calling his Anne Arundel County home his primary residence, even though he is registered to vote in California, according to a March report by Bloomberg News.

According to a House ethics committee document, the Office of Congressional Ethics looked into allegations that each member "received a Maryland homestead tax credit after October 2007 and as a result violated Maryland state law and House Rule 23."

(The state implemented stringent requirements in 2007 for those receiving the tax break; before that, residents often were granted the exemption automatically. House Rule 23 encompasses the chamber's code of official conduct.)

The ethics document indicates that the office terminated its review of Stark on Aug. 12, and that the committee was "[e]xpecting OCE notice of termination" for Engel, Matsui and Towns.

Matsui spokeswoman Mara Lee confirmed that the lawmaker had been notified in August that her case was closed. Roll Call reported this year that Matsui had applied for the tax break for her Montgomery County home as recently as March 2008, and that she had asked the county to remove the homestead designation after the newspaper inquired about the subject.

Towns spokeswoman Jenny Rosenberg said that her boss's case also had been closed by the Office of Congressional Ethics, and added that he had never asked for the tax exemption for his Maryland home but was given it anyway by the Prince George's County Assessment Office, which has since rectified the mistake.

"They admitted it was their error," Rosenberg said.

Engel's tax credit for his Potomac home was revoked by Maryland tax officials this year. An Associated Press report disclosed that the New York lawmaker had for at least 10 years declared the Montgomery County house to be his primary residence, and had received tax breaks worth several thousand dollars over that period.

In a statement released by his office, Engel said: "OCE conducted a review and totally dismissed the matter with regards to me. I welcomed and cooperated with their review because I knew these allegations were totally unfounded."

Stark's office did not return calls seeking comment.

-- Ben Pershing

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