Politics

Watchdog group: Boxer not transparent over all Countrywide mortgages

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Alex Pappas
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      Alex Pappas

      Alex Pappas is a Washington D.C.-based political reporter for The Daily Caller. He has also written for The Washington Examiner and the Mobile Press-Register. Pappas is a graduate of The University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., where he was editor-in-chief of The Sewanee Purple. While in college, he did internships at NBC's Meet the Press and the White House. He grew up in Mobile, Ala., where he graduated from St. Paul's Episcopal School. He and his wife live on Capitol Hill.

A watchdog group is questioning whether Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer could have been more transparent over a year ago in voluntarily disclosing the extent of her past mortgages with the company Countrywide.

But Boxer aides strongly argue that the watchdog group’s complaints are without merit and suggest the questions are suspiciously timed, considering how the California senator is locked in a tough re-election fight.

Boxer, as chairwoman of the Senate Ethics Committee, led a yearlong investigation beginning in 2008 into whether two Democratic senators acted improperly by being part of a VIP Countrywide program that gave influential clients favorable treatment.

At that time, Boxer told reporters that she had not been a part of the company’s VIP program and did not currently have any Countrywide mortgages. She did, however, volunteer to news outlets that, in the past, she had paid off two Countrywide mortgage home loans.

But one watchdog group says she wasn’t disclosing enough. According to extensive research provided to The Daily Caller by the non-partisan Foundation for Ethics in Public Service, Boxer conducted business with Countrywide on another property too — as co-signer of a house with her son. The group argues that if you add up all the transactions, including re-finances, on those three properties, Boxer has actually signed for at least seven Countrywide mortgages.

Leslie Merritt, the executive director of the watchdog group, said Boxer was “less than candid, if not lying” about her dealings with Countrywide by not disclosing more. But Boxer’s office maintains they honestly answered the question when reporters asked how many personal home mortgages she had.

“Senator Boxer disclosed more information than she was asked to disclose — even though Senate rules do not require any disclosure of a lawmaker’s mortgages,” said Boxer spokesman Zachary Coile, who strongly pushed back against this story.

Boxer’s committee eventually cleared Democratic Sens. Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Kent Conrad of North Dakota of wrongdoing. The committee, however, chided the senators for not being more sensitive to the appearance of impropriety.

Boxer’s office is skeptical about the motives of Merritt’s organization.

“It is suspicious, to say the least, that a North Carolina-based group that never raised any concern at any point during the Countrywide VIP investigation – which ended more than a year ago – is now pushing these false assertions three weeks before a federal election,” Coile said. Merritt, however, says the group wasn’t established until after the investigation, and regrets that a like-minded group didn’t investigate Boxer further.

Over the years, Boxer used Countrywide (also called America’s Wholesale Lender in some cases) to finance three separate properties in California and Washington, according to local filings and deeds tracked down by the Foundation for Ethics in Public Service:

— From 1993 to 2006, Boxer and her husband made four mortgage transactions (including re-financings) on a home in Marin County, Calif.

— From 2001 to 2007, the Boxers had two mortgage transactions on a condo in Washington D.C.

— And from 2002 to 2003, Boxer and her husband co-signed a mortgage for their son’s house in Alameda County, Calif.