Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ), who is currently seeking her party’s nomination for retiring Sen. Jeff Flake’s (R) open seat, promised during her 2012 Congressional campaign that “truthfulness” and “integrity” would be “core values” of her campaigns. But that truthfulness may not have applied to her required disclosure statements.
Last week, ThinkProgress reported that as a House candidate, McSally argued that the federal government should not take action to help underwater mortgage holders — even those who were victims of predatory lending and misleading terms — because she believed in “individual responsibility.”
In that April 2012 candidates’ forum, she noted that she could relate to those who owed more on their mortgages than the properties were even worth because of her own experience investing in undeveloped real estate. “I bought land in Elgin in 2006. Oh, it had been climbing, climbing, climbing and, guess what, it was right before it all fell. I’m upside down on that as well,” she said, referencing 18 acres she owns in the Elgin Estates lots near Tucson, valued at between $100,001 and $250,000.
A ThinkProgress review of McSally’s financial disclosures since 2012 found no disclosure of any mortgage on that property (though she has reported owning the Elgin acres). Her initial filing included an October 2002 Bank of America Home Loans mortgage on her Tucson home and a separate USAA home equity line of credit on that. Her 2014 disclosure said that both were paid off in March 2013 thanks to a VA refinance (McSally was a longtime Air Force officer prior to her political career) and replaced with a Wells Fargo Bank Mortgage. Since 2015, she has also listed a separate September 2015 mortgage.
The instructions on the disclosure forms — mandatory for House candidates and Members of Congress — require the reporting of “liabilities of over $10,000 owed to any one creditor at any time during the reporting period.” While that excludes mortgages on any personal residence that does not yield rental income, automobile loans, household furniture or appliances, business liabilities, and liabilities to family members, it would appear to include a large mortgage on undeveloped investment real estate on which McSally does not live.
Asked for that initial story why her disclosure forms did not include any mortgage on the Elgin land, her spokesperson said in an email that the “Congresswoman has no loan on Elgin address, and it is therefore not a liability for her to disclose.”
But another 2012 campaign speech makes it clear that, at least back then, she did have a massive mortgage on that land — one that was simply not disclosed.
That year, in a February 22 speech to the overflow crowd outside a Tucson Tea Party event, McSally said that she had been raised in Rhode Island but owned two properties in her adopted home state of Arizona.
“I bought some land in Elgin in 2006, although the bank still owns most of it,” she told the crowd.
And just days before, in a radio interview, she said, “I own 18 acres of land in Elgin, although I haven’t paid it off yet, so I guess I don’t really own it.”
Her office responded to a ThinkProgress requesting additional clarification about the discrepancy, and the same spokesperson appeared to contradict her previous claim that she had no loan on that property. “Were her forms incorrect? Answer: No. Or was she wrong in her 2012 speech? Answer: No,” wrote the spokesperson in an email. “Both her forms and 2012 speech were correct.”
The discovery comes weeks after the Federal Election Commission (FEC) unanimously approved an audit that found McSally’s 2014 House campaign did not correctly report its finances and failed to collect employment information for more than 1,200 individual contributions.
Aaron Scherb, director of legislative affairs for the nonpartisan watchdog Common Cause, told ThinkProgress that there is “unfortunately very little enforcement and verification of anything that’s contained in the [financial disclosure] reports” and that unless it was a pattern of intentional misstatements, the penalty is seldom more than a small fine.
Still, he notes, erroneous disclosures like these undermine public trust.
“I think every candidate or member of congress is ultimately responsible for the information that they include in their financial disclosure reports and FEC reports,” he concluded. “Repeated mistakes and errors can certainly undermine public confidence in an elected official’s ability to carry out one’s duties in public office.”