The California Republican Party has asked the Office of Congressional Ethics to look into whether Representative Lois Capps violated House rules or federal law when she rented a studio apartment to a staffer and failed to disclose the income for several years.
News reports in August showed Capps failed to disclose $41,480 of rental income from 2001-2005. An accountant for Capps reported the money to the House Legislative Resource Center — which monitors financial disclosures from congressmembers — in 2006, explaining it was an oversight, but her tax returns were not amended until earlier this year.
Capps, a Democrat who is engaged in a tough election battle with former lieutenant governor Abel Maldonado, said in news reports that once she realized the mistake, she fixed it. But Republicans are wondering why her accountant, David Powdrell, reported the income to the House Legislative Resource Center in 2006, but failed to tell the IRS until 2012. “If Mr. Powdrell is being truthful by characterizing Rep. Capps’ failure to disclose the rental income on her financial disclosure form as an oversight, it is a [sic] reasonable to assume that he conferred directly with the Congresswoman prior to sending the letter to the House Legislative Resource Center on her behalf,” wrote California Republican Party Chair Tom Del Beccaro to an Office of Congressional Ethics staff director.
The Office of Congressional Ethics — made up of private citizens — has no subpoena power, nor is it authorized to determine if a violation has actually occurred. It can also not sanction or penalize members of Congress. What it can do is refer matters to the House Ethics Committee, which conducts investigations into whether House members have violated ethics standards.
Capps spokesperson Jeff Millman said Capps’s staff had conferred with the House Ethics Committee, and that there was no issue. “We realize it’s the final weekend, so we were expecting a desperate act from Mr. Maldonado, who is trying to escape responsibility for his $4.2 million in back taxes and still hasn’t released his tax returns, as he promised,” Millman said. “The actual House Ethics Committee has informed us there is no ethics violation here, so this advisory office will just discard Mr. Maldonado’s frivolous letter.”
In addition to raising issues about what Capps knew about her rental income and when, the letter also questioned the financial relationship between Capps and the staffer, Jeremy Tittle, noting that Tittle was either paying rent from income he received as a congressional staff member of Capps’s, or as a staffer for her campaigns.
The letter from Del Beccaro came Friday afternoon, four days prior to Election Day, and a few days after the state Democratic Party requested that the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) “immediately commence an enforcement action” against Maldonado in connection with reports that Maldonado’s family business deducted from its tax returns a party in his honor the same day as a political fundraiser for the then-state senator.