Did TJ Cox mislead voters? Democratic congressman calls ethics complaint a partisan attack

A group of Kings County residents filed a complaint against Rep. TJ Cox with the Office of Congressional Ethics alleging the freshman congressman misled voters when he failed to disclose certain business interests.

The complaint references multiple Bee stories about Cox’s disclosures, other business dealings with the city of Fresno and a Maryland residence.

“At best, Representative Cox was grossly negligent in complying with the financial disclosure requirements and in failing to provide voters with complete and accurate information to make an informed selection of a candidate,” the complaint says.” At worst, Representative Cox willfully concealed accurate financial information regarding current ties and past legal issues.”

In a statement to The Bee on Tuesday, a representative for Cox’s campaign alleged the complaint was filed by a “disgruntled, partisan staffer” from former Rep. David Valadao’s campaign, the Republican incumbent who Cox beat in the 2018 election. Valadao was ahead on election night, and it wasn’t until the count was finished in December that Cox emerged as the winner.

The ethics complaint was filed Friday afternoon by constituents Cody and Rachel Bradley of Hanford; Jorge and Judy Mendes of Corcoran; Judy Scott of Hanford and Tyler Beck of Hanford. Beck previously worked for Valadao, but he said it was about two years ago and before Cox challenged Valadao.

The Office of Congressional Ethics is an independent, non-partisan entity charged with reviewing allegations of misconduct within the U.S. House of Representatives. The office doesn’t confirm or deny investigations, but once reports are complete, in most circumstances they are made public.

The Bee found Cox failed to disclose five businesses — two mining companies, two property developers and an Alaskan-based consultant firm.

Cox has told The Bee he’s working to divest from business interests.

“Before his election to Congress, TJ Cox was involved with a variety of small businesses, helping create jobs in the Central Valley,” Steven D’Amico, a representative for TJ Cox’s campaign said in a statement to The Bee. “He is in the process of ensuring that all of his disclosure paperwork accurately reflects those past efforts and is in full compliance.”

Cox’s office dismissed the complaint as a partisan attack filed by a former Valadao staffer.

“It is unfortunate that a disgruntled, partisan staffer involved in the losing campaign of the last election has filed a political, frivolous, baseless complaint, out of bitterness,” D’Amico said.

Who wrote the complaint?

What, if any, role the National Republican Congressional Committee played in the complaint process appeared to be a source of confusion.

Beck said the NRCC sought him out and helped draft the complaint.

“They already knew who I was,” he said. “They reached out and were wondering if I would be willing to team up with other people from our district. I said absolutely.”

Cody Bradley also said the NRCC helped the constituent group draft the language for the complaint, but the NRCC had a different take.

“The NRCC did not write the complaint regarding Congressman Cox’s illegal business activities but we applaud his constituents for their efforts to hold their Congressman accountable,” Torunn Sinclair, an NRCC spokeswoman, said in a statement.

Sinclair did not respond to a request for clarification.

The complaint named a number of witnesses, including people with business ties to Cox and three city council members. A nonprofit Cox previously ran contracts with the city of Fresno to operate Granite Park. However, that contract was authorized before the election of two council members listed as witnesses. A recent city audit found a number of issues with the nonprofit’s bookkeeping.

Four of the voters who signed the complaint said they didn’t know how or why the witnesses were named.

Fresno City Council Member Miguel Arias, who was named as a witness on the complaint, accused Valadao and Valley Future Foundation of being behind the complaint.

Valley Future Foundation describes itself as a “nonprofit media and policy foundation” run in part by Valadao campaign consultant Alex Tavlian; Anthony Ratekin, Congressman Devin Nunes’ former chief of staff; and Westlands Water District board member William Bourdeau.

Tavlian also runs a website called the San Joaquin Valley Sun, which first published news of the complaint. He denied any involvement.

Arias said taxpayer dollars should be focused on “real ethics complaints,” listing as an example President Donald Trump and his administration.

“It’s clear that team David Valadao is using their Valley Future Foundation nonprofit as cover for political campaigns and attacks on Democrats,” Arias said. “Why else would they exclude our Republican mayor who approved and is responsible for executing the city contract in question? If team Valadao devoted half the effort it took them to file this claim to serving his constituents for the last six years, he wouldn’t be a former congressman.”

Judy Mendes said that Valadao isn’t behind the complaint: “This is completely a grass-roots effort with Republicans in this area.”

Constituents call Cox an outsider

In interviews with The Bee, the constituents called Cox an outsider pushing an agenda for California Democrats that conflicts with their conservative values.

“He’s not from here, and he really never has been,” Mendes said. “TJ Cox is not a farmer. The only thing he’s ever planted was himself in our Valley.”

Beck said he hopes the ethics committee disciplines Cox for his late paperwork filings. “He didn’t tell the whole truth,” Beck said. “We feel he needs to be accountable for that.”

Scott said the complaint isn’t a partisan attack and described Cox as dishonest.

“We just don’t need anybody around that lies to us all the time,” she said. “We’re just out here trying to stick up for ourselves.”

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Brianna Calix covers politics and investigations for The Bee, where she works to hold public officials accountable and shine a light on issues that deeply affect residents’ lives. She previously worked for The Bee’s sister paper, the Merced Sun-Star, and earned her bachelor’s degree from Fresno State.