Boxer failed to declare million-dollar house on disclosures?

She chairs the Senate Ethics Committee, so Barbara Boxer should know her obligations for disclosure as a member of the upper chamber.  Roger Simon reports exclusively at Pajamas Media that Boxer neglected to disclose her ownership interest in a million-dollar residence in Oakland, as well as the mortgage — both required under Senate rules.  The Foundation for Ethics in Public Service has asked the Department of Justice to investigate Boxer’s lack of disclosure:

In a breaking development that may affect the close California Senate race, Pajamas Media has learned The Foundation for Ethics in Public Service sent a letter to Eric Holder last Thursday requesting the attorney general “begin an investigation to determine whether United States Senator Barbara Boxer violated any criminal laws or should be liable for any civil penalty for failure to disclose real property on her Personal Financial Disclosure Reports between 2002 and 2010.”

The Foundation for Ethics in Public Service is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization “that seeks to bring a new level of transparency, accountability and integrity to all levels of government in the United States.”  Boxer is the chair of the Senate Select Committee on Ethics.

The specific property FEPS is referring to is an Oakland, California, home valued at over a million dollars and co-owned by Boxer, her husband Stewart, their son Douglas, and his wife Amy.

I hadn’t heard of the Foundation for Ethics in Public Service until now.  FEPS operates out of North Carolina, run by Les Merritt, a one-time state auditor in NC and an occasional contributor to Republicans, although only less than $1400 in the last six years and nothing since a March 2008 contribution to Liddy Dole.  Also on the FEPS board is David Levinson, who worked for Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush.  If there is a partisan bent to the organization, it’s well hidden.

On the other hand, the letter to Eric Holder seems like a grandstanding play.  A failure to disclose assets does violate the Ethics  in Government Act, but the usual remedy is to the Ethics Committee first.  While Boxer chairs the panel, it does have Republicans who can make the case first in that body, and at least force Boxer to stonewall a probe first (if she dared) before asking the DoJ to assume jurisdiction over the allegation.  The letter seems more motivated at getting attention than a serious effort to get the Attorney General to open a criminal probe of Boxer.

None of this, though, lets Boxer off the hook.  If she has an ownership interest in a million-dollar house, she has to disclose that, along with the mortgage.  It’s rather routine, which would prompt a question about why she would avoid disclosing it in the first place.  Roger Simon has a theory about that:

The Oakland home is currently lived in by Douglas and his wife.  This is not the first time Senator Boxer’s son has been the center of controversy.  The senator reportedly paid out nearly $500,000 from her campaign contributions to her son’s public relations firm between 2001 and 2009.  Those moneys could have been used to pay off the mortgage on the Oakland property, adding urgency to the DOJ investigation sought by The Foundation for Ethics in Public Service and further complicating the legal and ethical issues involved.

One may not be connected to the other.  The payout of campaign funds to Boxer’s son has already drawn interest regardless of whether the money went into the house they apparently own jointly.  If the payout was a conduit to funding the mortgage, perhaps Boxer would have wanted its existence to be “off the books” in terms of disclosure, but that presumes illegality in Boxer’s hiring of her son for her campaigns.  It’s not illegal to own a home with a child or a parent, and it’s not illegal to hire them for campaigns, either — as long as they actually do work equal to the value of the compensation.  It is illegal to fail to disclose the arrangement and the ownership of the home, the latter of which Boxer apparently kept hidden for some reason.

I suspect that Boxer will be filing amended disclosures by the end of the week, and that the DoJ will not show much interest in the case.