This morning, new reporting emerged detailing how House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer has repeatedly engaged in questionable dealings with shady characters and lawbreakers. From shadowy shell companies to business deals with a donor, the new revelations build on earlier reporting that Comer paid his brother hundreds of thousands in land swaps involving special tax breaks. As House Republicans move into a baseless impeachment inquiry against President Biden without having uncovered a single shred of evidence of wrongdoing, it is clear that the only person House Republicans should be investigating for hiding assets, deals with donors, and ethics violations is James Comer himself.
Takeaway #1: James Comer Himself Has Made Shady Business Dealings Through An Opaque Shell Company. “[T]here are six acres that he bought in 2015 and co-owns with a longtime campaign contributor that [Comer] has treated differently, transferring his ownership to Farm Team Properties, a shell company he co-owns with his wife. […] Interviews and records reviewed by The Associated Press provide new insights into the financial deal, which risks undercutting the force of some of Comer’s central arguments in his impeachment inquiry of President Joe Biden. […] Such companies typically exist only on paper and are formed to hold an asset, like real estate. Their opaque structures are often designed to help hide ownership of property and other assets. […] But as Comer works to ‘deliver the transparency and accountability that the American people demand’ through the GOP’s investigation, his own finances and relationships have begun to draw notice, too […] The AP found that Farm Team Properties functions in a similarly opaque way…masking his stake in the land that he co-owns with the donor from being revealed on his financial disclosure forms.” [Associated Press, 12/14/23]
Takeaway #2: James Comer Launched The Shell Company When He Signed A Lucrative Land Deal With A High Dollar Donor Days Before Running For Congress. The Value of His Land Has Increased Significantly Since Then. “Comer created the [shell] company in 2017 to hold his stake in the six acres that he purchased two years earlier in a joint venture with Darren Cleary, a major campaign contributor and construction contractor from Monroe County, Kentucky, where the congressman was born and raised. It’s not clear how Comer came to invest with Cleary, who did not respond to an interview request. They have offered mutual praise for each other over the years, including Comer having called Cleary ‘my friend’ and ‘the epitome of a successful businessperson’ from the House floor. Cleary, his businesses and family have donated roughly $70,000 to Comer’s various campaigns, records show. He has also lauded Comer on social media for ‘For Fighting For Us Everyday’ and has posted photos of the two on a golf course together. At the time he and Comer entered their venture, [Darren] Cleary was selling an acre of his family’s land to Kentucky so it could build a highway bypass near Tompkinsville, which was completed in 2020. He sold Comer a 50% stake for $128,000 in six acres he owned that would end up being adjacent to the highway. Comer, a powerful political figure in this rural part of Kentucky, announced his bid for Congress days after purchasing the land. Marketing materials described the land as ‘choice’ property and play[ed] up its proximity to the bypass. The partnership sold off about an acre last year for $150,000, a substantial increase over its value when purchased, property records show. Farm Team Properties has also become more valuable. On Comer’s financial disclosure forms, it has risen in value from between $50,000 and $100,000 in 2016 to between $500,001 and $1 million in 2022, records show.” [Associated Press, 12/14/23]
Takeaway #3: Ethics Experts Expressed Concern About James Comer’s Lack of Transparency. “Ethics experts say House rules require members of Congress to disclose all assets held by such companies that are worth more than $1,000, ‘It seems pretty clear to me that he should be disclosing the individual land assets that are held by’ the shell company, said Delaney Marsco, a senior attorney who specializes in congressional ethics at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center in Washington. Marsco and other experts were perplexed as to why Comer would place such assets in a shell company, especially since he disclosed his other holdings and does not appear to have taken other efforts to hide his wealth ‘This is actually a real problem that anti-corruption activists would love to get legislative reform on,’ said Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis who specializes in government ethics. ‘It is hard to trace assets held in shell companies. His is a good example.’” [Associated Press, 12/14/23]
Takeaway #4: James Comer Is A “Fierce Partisan Who Has Ignored Wrongdoing By Friends And Supporters If They Can Help Him Advance In Business And Politics.” “As House Oversight Committee Chairman, Comer has presented himself as a bipartisan ethics crusader only interested in uncovering the truth. As evidence, he has pointed to a long career as a state legislator and official who sought to build bridges with Democrats and to ‘clean up scandal, restore confidence, and crack down on waste, fraud, and abuse. Interviews with allies, critics and constituents, however, reveal a fierce partisan who has ignored wrongdoing by friends and supporters if they can help him advance in business and politics. ‘The Jamie Comer I knew was light and sunshine and looking for common ground. Now he’s Nixonian,’ said Adam Edelen, a former Democratic state auditor and friend, comparing the lawmaker to a disgraced former president who resigned from office amid the Watergate scandal.” [Associated Press, 12/14/23]
Takeaway #5: James Comer Has Maintained Close Ties With Shady Characters And Lawbreakers, Inking Business Deals & Racking Up Campaign Contributions.
- Several of Comer’s Close Friends & Political Allies Were Indicted and One Was Sentenced As Part of A Tax Avoidance Scheme. “A wave of indictments against local Republican office holders, some of whom helped launch Comer’s political career and became close friends, soon followed. Mitchell Page and Larry Pitcock were among those charged in the sweep. Page, then the county’s chief executive, and Pitcock, the former county clerk, were sentenced in 1996 to 18 months in prison for tampering with a state computer database so that they and their families could avoid paying vehicle taxes. Rather than turning on Pitcock and Page, Comer has remained close to the men. He praised Page on the House floor in 2020 for his ‘principled leadership.’ Page did not respond to a request for comment. Pitcock could not be reached at phone numbers listed to him. Pitcock and his family members have donated about $9,000 to Comer’s political campaigns and held one of Comer’s first fundraisers when he ran to become state agriculture commissioner, records show. Comer dismissed questions about the propriety of having Pitcock sponsor a fundraiser for him, noting to CN2 News that it helped him raise nearly $60,000. Comer eventually hired Pitcock’s son to work for him in the agriculture commissioner’s office, records show. Members of the Pitcock family have since attended a House Republican fundraiser with Comer in Washington and posed for photographs with him inside the U.S. Capitol.” [Associated Press, 12/14/23]
- Comer’s Close Friend, Who Pled Guilty To A Vote-Buying Scheme, Defended Him Against Abuse Allegations By A Former Girlfriend During Comer’s 2015 Gubernatorial Campaign. “In 2011, a voter fraud case roiled local politics and swept up Billy Proffitt, Comer’s longtime friend and former college roommate. Proffitt pleaded guilty in December 2011 and was sentenced to probation. A few years later, Proffitt came to Comer’s defense from allegations that nearly derailed the future congressman’s political career. During the 2015 Republican primary for governor, a local blogger began posting about accusations that Comer had abused a college girlfriend. Comer vehemently denied the allegations. And in the hopes of discrediting the stories, he leaked emails to a local paper that suggested a rival campaign had been coordinating the coverage with the blogger, according to The New York Times. The leak allegation may have discredited the other candidate, Hal Heiner, but ended up hurting Comer’s campaign. The coverage angered the former girlfriend, who wrote a letter to the Louisville Courier-Journal in which she asserted that Comer had hit her and that their relationship had been ‘toxic.’ She also told the newspaper that Comer became ‘enraged’ in 1991 after he learned she had used his name on a form she submitted before receiving an abortion at a Louisville clinic. Proffitt, however, told the newspaper that he had never seen Comer be abusive toward Thomas. ‘That doesn’t sound like Jamie at all,’ said Proffitt, using Comer’s nickname, adding that he had never heard about the allegations of Thomas getting an abortion. Comer ended up losing the primary by 83 votes to Matt Bevin, who went on to win the general election. It was the only campaign that Comer has lost. The lawmaker and Proffitt remain close friends and business associates. Profitt’s family’s real estate company is spearheading the efforts to sell the land held by Farm Team Properties. In a brief interview, Proffitt called the focus on Comer’s shell company ‘much ado about nothing,’ adding that the lawmaker ‘is a loyal friend and a good man who comes from a really, really good family.’” [Associated Press, 12/14/23]