Disclosures expose candidates’ finances, sometimes aid rivals

Dr. Rich McCormick is a Republican candidate in Georgia’s 7th Congressional District. Special.

Reports contain info that opponents often try to use to their advantage

After deciding to run for Congress, Rich McCormick set about filing the various documents and forms required of candidates for federal office. He asked for and received extra time to submit his financial disclosure, filing the overview of his finances and assets in August 2019.

It contained several errors that were recently discovered by a potential constituent who filed a complaint with the House Ethics Committee. McCormick’s campaign admitted to the mistakes, including a clerical blunder that resulted in a tenfold overstatement of his U.S. Navy salary: It’s listed as $1.3 million instead of $130,000.

The campaign said none of the errors were intentional but rather the result of a novice candidate who didn’t yet have the resources or staff to assist with these tasks.

The incident highlights the heightened scrutiny McCormick now faces as the Republican nominee in Georgia’s 7th Congressional District, one of the nation’s most competitive races. He faces Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux.

And it shows how filing forms listing assets and income can cause candidates political heartburn.

Duluth attorney Sharmila Nambiar said she decided to file the ethics complaint last week because misleading or inaccurate information prevents constituents from knowing the extent of McCormick’s finances and possible conflicts of interest.

“It’s the entire reason candidates like McCormick are legally required to be transparent about their financial dealings,” she said in a statement. “Intentionally or unwittingly, Rich McCormick failed to do the right thing here.”

Nambiar also complained that McCormick listed no assets in his 2019 form but by the time he filed his report he had given his campaign $300,000. He later would loan it an additional $247,000.

House ethics investigations are confidential, and committee staff did not respond to an email seeking information about the complaint. McCormick is unlikely to face sanctions if a new, accurate disclosure is filed.

McCormick’s team said his 2020 financial disclosure form was accurate and he is in the process of resubmitting a corrected 2019 document.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reviewed the financial disclosures for other high-profile Georgia candidates for Congress, identifying areas where their opponents may use the information against them.

For example, McCormick’s campaign recently lobbed its own attack on Bourdeaux based on her financial disclosures, which list retirement accounts and investments owned by her and her husband worth several million dollars. Candidates and incumbents are only required to list assets within ranges, making it impossible to determine their exact net worth.

Bourdeaux, a former state budget analyst, is currently on unpaid leave from her job as a college professor, but her most recent annual salary was $77,725.20. McCormick’s campaign says her disclosures describe a woman of wealth.

“For 22 years Carolyn Bourdeaux has been paid by the taxpayer, yet somehow, she’s worth more than $3.1 million,” McCormick campaign manager Al Chaul said.

Monica Robinson, a spokeswoman for Bourdeaux’s campaign, said McCormick’s attack are an attempt at deflection.

“Rich McCormick has just been hit with an ethics complaint over his failure to come clean with Georgians over his personal finances,” she said. “So it’s no wonder he is looking at other candidates’ forms to see how he can do it correctly.”

Nambiar, who filed the complaint against McCormick, supports Democratic candidates in Gwinnett County, but Bourdeaux’s campaign has been adamant that it had nothing to do with taking the action against the Republican.

Former U.S. Rep. Karen Handel, the GOP nominee in the neighboring 6th District, used shorthand to describe her ties to the anti-abortion group Georgia Life Alliance. In her financial disclosure filed in July, the organization is listed by the acronym “GLA.”

Handel was not required to say how much the group paid her; it is listed in the category of contracts where she earned at least $5,000. Her campaign declined to provide additional specifics to the AJC, including more about the “strategic planning” contract she has with the group.

Handel faces a rematch in November against Democratic U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, who defeated her in 2018 using a platform that focused on gun control, health care and other progressive causes.

McBath’s disclosures list property her husband owns outside of Knoxville, Tennessee. McBath considers Marietta her primary residency, but her travels back and forth to her husband’s home in Tennessee were used by Handel’s campaign two years ago to question her eligibility to run for office in Georgia.

One of the state’s wealthiest candidates is Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Republican nominee in the 14th Congressional District. Greene is the owner of Taylor Commercial, a construction business valued anywhere between $5 million and $25 million, according to her financial disclosure. She earns between $100,000 and $1 million in income from the company annually.

Greene also owns an Alpharetta office building that generates annual income between $100,000 and $1 million.

By comparison, her opponent in the 14th District, Democrat Kevin Van Ausdal, lists no assets. He and his wife’s combined salary is less than $100,000.

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