By John Mitchel
Republican Steve Austria may be laying low in the dark shadows brought on by the House Ethics Committee’s investigation of Charlie Rangel, but that convenient diversion is only short-lived. The Democrats are looking for a GOP scapegoat to take the pressure off their own scandals, and they may have found one in Congressman Austria. Much of Rangel’s agony is brought on by his incomplete and inaccurate Financial Disclosure Statements filed with the House Ethics Committee, but at least Rangel filed, something that it appears Steve Austria overlooked in November, 2007 shortly after he announced his initial run for Congress.
Federal law requires that first-time candidates like Steve Austria in 2007 file a Form B with the House Ethics Committee no later than 30 days after raising or spending $5,000. However, according to www.fec.gov, Austria’s campaign raised more than $90,000 on October 27, 2007. Therefore Mr. Austria was required by law to file a personal Financial Disclosure Statement (Form B) no later than November 27, 2007, which he did not, unless the House Ethics Committee failed to make it available to the public. If Austria knowingly and willfully failed to file, or withheld information required by the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 he could receive one year in prison and/or a $50,000 fine.
But failing to file may be the least of Austria’s worries as when he did get around to filing in May, 2008, he omitted some important information, not the least of which are Mrs. Austria’s employment with Nextedge Development Corporation and The University of Dayton, not to mention his association with the not-for-profit Dayton Development Coalition. It’s important to note that those may be legal activities, but knowingly and willfully failing to disclose them clearly violates the Ethics in Government Act of 1978.
Post-Watergate financial disclosure laws were passed to give the public a clear window into potential conflicts of interest by candidates for the U.S. Congress. The first Financial Disclosure Statement filed by a non-incumbent is the most important because it serves as a baseline ethics metric for what could be a decades-long career in Congress, as is the case with New York Congressman Charlie Rangel. Whether or not Mr. Rangel weathers the Ethics Committee hearings, his legacy is forever tainted. As far as Steve Austria’s legacy – well, we’ll have to see how that unfolds if and when the House Ethics Committee holds true to their promise to investigate both Democrats and Republicans with equal intensity.