A growing number of watchdog groups are calling for an investigation into alleged ethics violations by Rep. Nick Rahall (D., W. Va.) following a report that he obtained a tax deduction by claiming Washington, D.C., as his primary residence.
Last week the Washington Times reported Rahall applied for and received a homestead tax deduction for his D.C. townhouse, saving him $573 on his annual D.C. property tax bill.
Rahall, whose net worth is between nearly $2 million to $3 million according to financial disclosure reports, also enjoys a reduced owner-occupied tax rate on his West Virginia home, which cut his state property tax bill in 2012 by $2,874, according to records obtained by the Washington Times.
“Any member taking a D.C. homestead deduction is pulling a fast one,” said Ken Boehm, chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center. “They just can’t do it. Period. They have access to any legal counsel they want, so there’s no excuse.”
Thomas Fitton, president of conservative government oversight group Judicial Watch, said he was willing to give Rahall the benefit of the doubt, but the congressman needed to clear up the matter.
“He would do well to explain himself,” Fitton said “Was it an oversight, a miscommunication, or what?”
The report opens Rahall up to a possible ethics investigation. Members of Congress must maintain their primary residence in the district they represent.
The homestead deduction application form states: “A member of Congress is generally not considered a District domiciliary.”
The Code of Ethics for Government Service says members of Congress must “uphold the Constitution, laws, and legal regulations of the United States and of all governments therein and never be a party to their evasion.”
Rahall’s office did not return multiple requests for comment.
Melanie Sloan, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), was more direct.
“Rep. Rahall should pay back the money to the District of Columbia or drop out of his race for re-election in West Virginia,” Sloan told the Washington Times. “If the District of Columbia is his primary residence, I don’t know how he meets the residency requirements to serve as a representative from West Virginia.”
Rep. Pete Stark (D., Calif.) was cleared by the House Ethics Committee in 2010 of allegations of ethics violations for taking a homestead tax deduction on his Maryland residence. However, the ethics committee found he had not knowingly sought out or applied for the tax deduction-unlike Rahall.
Several other former and current members of Congress have been investigated for claiming homestead tax deductions in Maryland and the District, but most have been cleared.
Rahall has a history of ethics problems.
His use of his office to benefit family members has drawn considerable attention from ethics watchdogs. For example, Rahall’s sister Tanya is a registered lobbyist who has cited her close ties with Rahall to clients as a selling point.
Rahall says he does not allow his sister to lobby him. However, according to a Politico report, Tanya Rahall had a mailbox in the congressman’s office.
In 2003, Rahall’s son was charged with driving under the influence, cocaine distribution, and felony breaking and entering. Rahall wrote a letter on congressional stationary asking a judge for leniency. After the letter was revealed by the press, Rahall said using the stationary was an error in judgment and he would repay the Treasury for its cost.
Per their policy of not commenting on specific allegations or investigations, the Office of Congressional Ethics and the House Committee on Ethics declined to comment for this article.