Friday, September 7, 2007

Surprise! Another Republican Real Estate Deal

Imagine my surprise when I checked in at the Chicago Tribune today and saw the story on Congressman Jerry Weller (R-I11) and his questionable actions on foreign real estate transactions:

Weller, a southwest suburban congressman with a fondness for Latin America, has sunk a large share of his investment capital into a land development in Nicaragua. But he didn't declare the extent of his holdings on his required congressional disclosures, and he indicated dramatically different purchase prices for the land in American and Nicaraguan records.
This wasn't just an ommission. The Tribune reports that he underreported the number of properties he owned in 2005 and that he overreported the purchase prices of several properties:
In his 2004 disclosure, Weller listed the sale of a Capitol Hill condo for between $250,001 and $500,000 on April 8 and three days later reported buying Lot 2 in San Juan for between $50,001 and $100,000.

Property records in Rivas show Weller bought the 2.6-acre parcel at Playa Coco for 50,000 cordobas, or about $2,777.

That's a $47,323 discrepency on the low end. And, Weller did the same thing repeatedly, in 2002 and 2005. In one case, he bought a property for $4,333, reported the purchase at $50,000 to $100,000 and then sold the property for $95,000. I don't know enough about taxation of foreign investments but that seems to me to be a significant capital gain that was underreported.

Now why would he hide his land investments and the extent of them. The answer looks like he wanted to influence the CAFTA vote. Apparently, Weller was a staunch advocate leading the debate in favor of the narrowly passed agreement:
His investment got a boost from the narrowly passed Central America Free Trade Agreement, which Weller pitched in 2005 as a tool to enable businesses in his hard-pressed district to sell tractors and food to Latin America. CAFTA also includes additional legal protection for American investors, including those who have purchased lots from Weller.

What he didn't say was that, while he publicly pushed CAFTA, Weller privately was pursuing his land development, some 2,000 miles away. The House approved the trade pact in July 2005 by only two votes, 217-215.

So, in 2005 when he was publically supporting legislation that would directly benefit him, Weller disclosed none of this. Perhaps he didn't want his buddies to know that he could care less about tractors and far more about his own pockets? Because, in 2006, once the CAFTA deal was sealed, he did make more substantial disclosures.

Further in, the story reports that Weller doesn't disclose anything about his wife's holdings, feigning complete ignorance about what she owns and what her finances are. Yeah, I have no idea how much money my husband makes or what real estate he owns.

The theme of all of this is familiar. We have Congressman after Congressman - most often Republicans - who use real estate transactions to hide payoffs or to hide profits from votes for self-interests.

Do they send these people to a school for this or is it Republican tribal communication - you know, passed on verbally from one generation of corruption to another?