Republicans file ethics complaint against McCaskill

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Missouri GOP has repeatedly raised questions about the holdings of her husband.

WASHINGTON -- The Missouri Republican Party filed an ethics complaint Wednesday against Democrat Claire McCaskill, claiming the U.S. Senate candidate has not shared enough information about her husband's finances.

In its complaint to the Senate Ethics Committee, the party charged that McCaskill has not fully complied with federal ethics laws for reporting her family's assets, income and liabilities.

"Claire McCaskill has violated both the letter and spirit of those laws by providing incomplete and misleading information," said Jared Craighead, the party's executive director.

McCaskill spokeswoman Adrianne Marsh called the action "a sad and predictable attempt to distract voters from the issues that matter."

"The Senate Ethics Committee stated that they were satisfied with the information we've provided and informed our campaign that we would not be receiving any additional requests for information," Marsh said.

The Ethics Committee does not publicly comment on individual candidate reports or pending complaints.

Missouri Republicans have repeatedly raised questions about the holdings of McCaskill's husband, millionaire housing developer Joseph Shepard, since she began her campaign last August to oust Republican Sen. Jim Talent.

Earlier this year, McCaskill filed a personal finance disclosure report that is required of all candidates for federal office. Her disclosure shows more than 200 investments in real estate partnerships and companies in her husband's name worth at least $12 million and possibly more than $25 million.

The Ethics Committee has twice asked her to clarify portions of the report to include the underlying assets of dozens of Shepard's holdings and partnerships. On each occasion, McCaskill's campaign has submitted more documents to comply with the committee's request.

But the state GOP contends McCaskill has not gone far enough. Republican officials spent weeks poring over McCaskill's filings, with assistance from GOP lawyers at the National Republican Senatorial Committee, to find problems with her report.

"The public has a right to know what exactly Mrs. McCaskill's husband owns and the percentage and value of his ownership in each asset," the complaints states.

Not so, says Marc Elias, the veteran Washington, D.C., attorney who prepared McCaskill's filing.

"What we've got here is partisan political operatives trying to create a false sense that there's a controversy where none actually exists," Elias said. "The Republicans are just unhappy that they can't get more data than the law requires."

The GOP claims McCaskill did not:

* Disclose all real estate assets in which her family has a business or investment interest.

* Mention any government tax credits Shepard has received, although public records show tax credits have been issued to him.

* Disclose all debts and liabilities associated with real estate properties listed in her report, even though public records show at least some of the properties were purchased with loans.

* Report receiving any income from hundreds of real estate partnerships, even though public records show at least some of the properties -- such as apartment homes -- generate revenue.

There is no deadline for the Ethics Committee to act on the complaint.

"It's entirely possible this could spur the Ethics Committee to ask more questions, but it's more likely that they'll do nothing," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of the Washington-based watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

"They, on their own, asked for more information twice, and if they said they're satisfied, they probably really are," Sloan said. "They've reviewed thousands of these forms, many from rich senators with complicated financial histories. It's not like this is the first disclosure form they've ever seen."

On the other hand, Sloan said McCaskill should try to be clear.

"It's fair of any citizen to persuade the Ethics Committee to ask more questions if they feel the forms don't include enough," Sloan said.

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