Reporters on the beat in Washington thought Christmas was over until they found one more present hidden under the tree courtesy of the House Ethics Committee, who announced Rep. Pete Stark is the subject of an investigation. The statement was released Dec. 24 and reported today by the congressional newspaper Roll Call.
The subject of the investigation against Stark is unknown and creating rampant speculation whether the ethics inquiry is related to tax breaks the 19-term congressman received via his home in Maryland reported earlier this year. (Yes, your congressman does not live in Alameda County, although he is registered to vote in California.)
According to a Washington Post story in late October, the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) "terminated" its investigation of Stark Aug. 12. Three other congress members facing similar allegations of receiving tax breaks also had investigation dropped by OCE. Only Stark's name was mentioned for referral to the House Ethics Committee. There is speculation more information was attained by the OCE since August or new allegations against Stark prompted a new investigation. The OCE reviews possible misconduct before submitting cases to the House Ethics Committee for investigation. According to the OCE, an announcement regarding the subject of Stark's investigation will occur Feb. 10 or possibly earlier.
Possibly enhancing speculation, Stark's office has not responded to press inquiries, including The Citizen.
The Christmas Eve announcement of potentially embarrassing ethics violations is bittersweet for the long-time East Bay lawmaker, coming on the same day the Senate approved a bill pushing universal health care closer to fruition than it has ever been. Stark chairs the House Ways and Means Committee on Health and has taken a high-profile position in the House to improve access to health care to all Americans.
In March, Bloomberg News reported Stark received a $4,000 homestead tax credit by listing his Maryland home as his primary residence. Before 2007, the tax break was easily obtained until tougher rules were enacted by the Maryland Legislature. According to the story, Stark did little to deny possible violations and offered to repay the credit if he did not qualify. His comments led the state to open an investigation.
Stark is not the only Democrat in Congress facing questions of ethical impropriety. His counterpart on the Ways and Means Committee Charles Rangel (D-NY) has also been the target of numerous ethics investigations into his personal finances and alleged fundraising violations. Earlier this month, ethics allegations against Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) and two other congressmen were dropped by the OCE.
-STEVEN TAVARESJOIN THE REVOLUTION! www.eastbaycitizen.com