Cornyn Calls for Senators to Disclose Mortgages
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) is filing an amendment to the housing bill currently being debated on the Senate floor that would require all members of the chamber to include information about their residential mortgages on their annual financial disclosure reports. Cornyn is the top Republican on the Senate Ethics Committee, and his amendment has the support of the entire ethics panel, including Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).
Lawmakers' mortgages have been much in the news lately, particularly since the revelation that Sens. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) and Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) allegedly got preferential mortgage terms from Countrywide Financial Corp. as part of a VIP program. In the House, Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Calif.) has been under scrutiny for apparently defaulting on loans for multiple homes, one of which she lost to foreclosure.
But none of that information has been made available on members' financial disclosure reports, because lawmakers are not required to include the details of their residential mortgages or to list their primary residences as assets. Capitol Briefing can attest that this loophole makes it difficult to determine how much members of Congress are really worth, or how much they might be in debt. Doing it the hard way, the Politico asked all 100 Senators to reveal the details of their mortgages; 77 agreed to do so, while 23 didn't.
Beyond those recent stories, the scandal surrounding ex-Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.) also illustrates why full disclosure of all mortgages could bring valuable transparency to members' finances. Cunningham, who is currently in prison after pleading guilty to several federal charges, first got in hot water back in 2005 when it was revealed that he had sold his house to a defense contractor at an inflated price. But that transaction wasn't on Cunningham's FD; it was unearthed by an enterprising Copley News Service reporter via local real estate records and other sources. Perhaps if Cunningham had known he would have to report the deal on his annual report, which would be scrutinized by the press, he might have thought twice about making it.
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