Is There Any Form Of Corruption Senator Burr Didn't Engage In?
from the curious dept
Senator Richard Burr, the head of the powerful Senate Intelligence Committee sure seems to be engaged in a bunch of sketchy looking activities. First, there was the revelation from a few weeks back of selling off a bunch of hotel stock after being briefed about COVID-19 (while simultaneously telling the public it was nothing to worry about — and that the US was “in a better position than any other country to respond,” which now looks laughable in retrospect). The latest, as revealed by ProPublica, is that Burr sold his DC townhouse to a lobbyist who has had issues before Barr’s committees, in a “private” unlisted sale for what appears to be above market rates.
Burr sold the small townhouse, in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, for what, by some estimates, was an above market price ? $900,000 ? to a team led by lobbyist John Green. That is tens of thousands of dollars above some estimates of the property?s value by tax assessors, a real estate website and a local real estate agent. The sale was done off-market, without the home being listed for sale publicly.
Green is a longtime donor to Burr?s political campaigns and has co-hosted at least one fundraiser for him. In 2017, the year of the sale, Green lobbied on behalf of a stream of clients with business before Burr?s committees.
As with many of these things, whether or not this is legal depends on a lot of the specifics (including if this really was sold above market rate). But even if was legal, it certainly has all the appearance of fairly blatant corruption.
?This has every appearance of being a violation of the gift ban,? said Craig Holman, a lobbyist for the watchdog group Public Citizen. ?The gift ban is one of the most basic legal frameworks for preventing corruption. Lobbyist gifts to lawmakers is akin to a bribe.?
Burr, for his part insists that the sale was for fair market value, despite what others are saying.
Tax assessors valued the Washington, D.C., home for $796,720 in 2017, more than $100,000 less than Green and his business partner paid for it. But tax assessment values in the city often come in under market prices. Burr paid $525,000 for the place in 2003.
Redfin, the real estate website, estimated the home?s value to be $813,973 in the month the house was sold, though the company?s valuations are far from exact.
Bob Williams, a Coldwell Banker real estate agent who helps buy and sell homes in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, reviewed the listing for ProPublica and said that he would estimate that in early 2017 Burr?s home would have sold on the market for around $850,000, possibly more if there were multiple competing offers.
Given that, it certainly doesn’t appear to be an egregious overreach, but still one that certainly leads to significant skepticism about Burr’s ethics. One thing about being a public official is that you’re supposed to go out of your way to avoid situations that would make the public doubt your commitment to the public interest. Instead, Burr and some others in the article are going by the legalistic “well, the Senate Ethics Committee was notified and we followed their rules” which is a legalistic way of saying “my colleagues looked the other way for me.”