Ethics Panel Eyed Stark’s Property

Posted March 3, 2010 at 6:44pm

Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) is in line to chair the Ways and Means Committee after an ongoing ethics investigation sidelined Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), even though Stark himself has tangled with the ethics committee in recent months.

The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, commonly known as the ethics panel, recently dismissed allegations that Stark had improperly received a Maryland property tax break intended for the state’s residents.

In its Jan. 28 report, the committee said Stark applied for the tax break but declared that his actions — including indicating on a form that he was registered to vote in Maryland, which was later corrected by a state employee — did not violate any law or House rules because he did not receive the tax break in the period under review. The independent Office of Congressional Ethics, which recommended the ethics committee investigate the matter, had concluded that applying for the tax break was a violation in its own right.

Discrepancies in Stark’s tax status were first raised in a Bloomberg.com report in March 2009, which indicated the lawmaker had received about $3,800 in homestead tax credits between 2007 and 2008 on his Anne Arundel County home.

At the same time, Stark revealed another ethics matter tied his real estate holdings in an interview with the publication Inside Politics.

According to the March 19 article, the ethics committee approved Stark’s request to lease a rental property to “a former Clinton White House official who had become a lobbyist,” but the panel later revoked its approval after he had done so.

Stark has declined repeated interview requests about the incident. In mid-January, Stark responded to questions about the rental property by stating only “no” before walking away. A Stark spokesman did not return repeated telephone calls or e-mails over several months.

Stark’s most recent financial disclosure forms, covering calendar year 2008, include a Capitol Hill row house valued at $1 million to $5 million, which generated $50,000 to $100,000 in annual rent.

District of Columbia property tax records indicate the home, valued at more than $900,000 in the current tax year, is located at 316 Second St. SE.

Lobbying disclosure forms and other public records show the firm Capitol Hill Strategies listed at that same address as early as November 2006 until at least October 2007.

Financial disclosure forms covering calendar years 2006 and 2007 indicate Stark listed the value for the home at $1 million to $5 million and the annual rental income at $50,000 to $100,000.

It is not known how much Capitol Hill Strategies paid to use the property. Capitol Hill Strategies President Chuck Brain, who served as director of legislative affairs to then-President Bill Clinton, did not return repeated telephone calls or e-mails requesting an interview.

Before joining the Clinton administration, Brain served as an aide to former Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) and later returned to the Hill as an aide to Rangel.

It is not known whether Capitol Hill Strategies rented the full property or only the adjacent two-story carriage house, located in an alleyway behind the row house. Lobbyist disclosure reports for that period typically list the street address appended with “Suite 100.”

In late 2006 or 2007, the time that Capitol Hill Strategies is listed at the Stark property, the firm represented Advamed, Amgen Inc., Delta Airlines, Merck & Co., the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, Prudential Financial Inc., Wachovia Corp., the Biotechnology Industry Organization, Business Roundtable, Citigroup Management Corp., the Investment Company Institute and the National Venture Capital Association, according to lobbying records.

During that same period, Stark served as the ranking member and then chairman of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health.

Stark’s previous financial disclosure records indicate he has owned a rental property identified as a “Washington, D.C. Duplex” since at least 1986. His 1990 calendar year report identifies a “duplex” and lists the same Second Street Southeast address.

House lawmakers are required to disclose any property that generates income in their annual financial disclosures — including rental income ­­— as well as mortgages or other debts on the property, but they do not have to report specifically who rents the property.

A public records search of the property disclosed several current tenants, including the firm Northern Taiga Ventures Inc., a subsidiary of the Alaska Native Corp. for Rampart, Alaska. NTVI’s Web site describes the firm as “a general contractor with substantial Federal construction and professional services contracting experience and capabilities.”

NTVI CEO Kevin Krauklis confirmed Wednesday that the company currently rents the carriage house portion of the property.

In an interview in January, Krauklis expressed surprise that the property was owned by a Member, although he recognized Stark’s name from rent payments sent to a Maryland address.

“You’re saying we’re renting from a Member of Congress?” Krauklis said at that time. “I know the name Pete and Deborah Stark. … I didn’t know he was a Representative.”

Krauklis said NTVI, which also maintains offices in Alaska, Maryland, Virginia, Colorado and Georgia, began renting the Capitol Hill office in December 2007 and holds a month-to-month lease. NTVI pays Stark $1,750 per month, Krauklis said.

Krauklis could not recall how NTVI located the property, but he said: “Office space in the area is pretty tough to come by, and if something comes available, you’ve got limited time to seal the deal.”

NTVI, which established a holding company, NTVI Federal Inc., and its own subsidiaries in 2005, does not employ lobbyists, Krauklis said. Krauklis also serves as president of NTVI Federal and NTVI Communications.

Neither NTVI nor its parent company, the Baan O Yeel Kon Corp., appear in the Lobbying Act Disclosure Database maintained by Congress.

According to records compiled by FedSpending.org, the Baan O Yeel Kon Corp. has received federal contracts totaling more than $203 million between fiscal years 2000 and 2009.

Other tenants at the property listed in public records could not be reached for comment.