Home 2014 Races Congressional Ethics Complaint Filed Against Barbara Comstock for Disclosure Violation

Congressional Ethics Complaint Filed Against Barbara Comstock for Disclosure Violation

231
0
SHARE

Honestly, I'm just trying to think of one decent reason why anyone in the 10th CD would vote for Barbara Comstock.

 

The American Democracy Legal Fund (ADLF) has filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics against Barbara Comstock, candidate for Virginia’s 10th Congressional district. As the Washington Post reported recently:

“Comstock failed to report that a public-relations company she owns took in a total of $85,000 in 2012 trying to help Mitt Romney become president, an apparent breach of congressional ethics rules.”

The American Democracy Legal Fund has requested the Office of Congressional Ethics investigate whether Ms. Comstock’s action constituted a calculated and deliberate attempt to deprive voters of an important source of information about her background. The full complaint and associated exhibits are available here and here.

The American Democracy Legal Fund is a group established by David Brock and run by Brad Woodhouse, the purpose of which is to hold candidates for office accountable for possible ethics and/or legal violations.

 

September 15, 2014

 

Porter J. Goss, Chairman

David Skaggs, Co-Chairman

Office of Congressional Ethics

425 3rd St. S.W., Suite 1110

Washington, D.C. 20024

 

Re:       Illegal and Unethical Conduct by Congressional Candidate Barbara Comstock

Dear Chairman Goss and Chairman Skaggs:

This letter constitutes a complaint against Barbara Comstock, Congressional candidate for Virginia’s 10th district.  Recent news reports and publicly available documents indicate that there is a reasonable basis to believe that Ms. Comstock has violated federal law by knowingly concealing her ownership interest in a public relations company and failing to disclose clients of that firm for which she personally provided services generating fees in excess of $5,000. We respectfully request that OCE review this matter.

I.          Factual Background

Barbara Comstock is a Congressional candidate for Virginia’s 10th district and a member of the Virginia House of Delegates. In January 2014, Ms. Comstock filed a Statement of Economic Interests with the General Assembly of Virginia identifying an ownership interest in excess of $10,000 in Comstock Strategies, and reporting under $50,000 in income from the company in 2013.[1] Federal Election Commission reports filed in 2012 by the Republican National Committee and Romney for President, Inc. reveal payments of $20,000 and $65,000, respectively, to Comstock Strategies for services provided in connection with the 2012 presidential campaign.[2]

In March 2014, Ms. Comstock filed a federal financial disclosure report with the Clerk of the United States House of Representatives in connection with her candidacy.[3] Ms. Comstock reported earned income in 2013 of $27,000 from Comstock Strategies on Schedule C of the report. She did not disclose her ownership interest in Comstock Strategies on Schedule A of the report, and did not disclose any compensation in excess of $5,000 paid by one source on Schedule J of the report.

Media reports indicate that upon being confronted with these omissions, Ms. Comstock, through a spokesperson, admitted that her ownership of the company and its clients should have been disclosed and stated that she would be filing an amended report.[4]  To date, she has not amended her report.

II.        Legal Background and Analysis

The Ethics in Government Act of 1978, as amended (5 U.S.C. app. 4 §§ 101-111) (“EIGA” or the “Act”), imposes personal financial disclosure requirements on all qualified candidates for the United States Congress. Under the rules, a non-incumbent candidate must file a Public Financial Disclosure report with the Clerk of the House that discloses, among other things, the value, type and amount of income from all assets held for investment or the production of income by the candidate, her spouse, and dependent children, with a fair market value over $1,000 or that generate more than $200 in “unearned” income during the year.[5]  The candidate must also disclose the source of compensation received by the candidate’s employer for services provided personally by the candidate during the two prior years generating a fee or payment of more than $5,000, but only if the candidate has an ownership interest in that employer.[6] 

Candidates who file electronically must personally sign the form digitally before submission to certify that the report is “true, complete and correct to the best of [the candidate’s] knowledge and belief.” Any individual who knowingly and willfully falsifies or who knowingly and willfully fails to file or report any information that such individual is required to report may be subject to incarceration and/or a fine.[7] Moreover, anyone who knowingly and willfully falsifies or conceals any material fact in a statement to the government may be fined up to $50,000, imprisoned for up to five years, or both.[8]

Ms. Comstock has admitted that her failure to disclose her ownership interest in Comstock Strategies and the company’s $5,000+ clients violated the Act and Ethics Committee guidance, but she has maintained that the omission was an unintentional oversight.[9] Such an oversight would have required a particularly glaring disregard by Ms. Comstock—a trained lawyer and legislator—for the disclosure obligations imposed upon on her by the Act. It would mean that she simply ignored the clear instructions provided by the Ethics Committee and failed to give the completed report even the most basic review before she personally certified its truth and accuracy.

It would also have required Ms. Comstock to temporarily forget about her ownership interest in a company bearing her name and from which she had reported a salary on the same report. She did not forget to disclose this ownership interest on a financial report filed with the Virginia General Assembly less than three months before. But on this report, identification of her ownership interest would have also entailed the disclosure of firm clients, and media reports suggest that the omission may have been an attempt to intentionally avoid such disclosure.[10]

Ms. Comstock’s failure to initially disclose this information or file an amended report undermines the purpose of EIGA’s financial disclosure requirements, which is to fully and accurately identify potential conflicts of interest. The Office of Congressional Ethics should investigate whether Ms. Comstock’s failure to comply with the Act constituted a calculated and deliberate attempt to deprive voters of an important source of information about her background.  

III.       Conclusion

As described above, Congressional candidate Barbara Comstock has violated federal law and we request that the Office of Congressional Ethics investigate this activity immediately. 

We understand that 18 U.S.C. § 1001 applies to the information we are providing.

Sincerely,

 

Brad Woodhouse,

Treasurer