Politics & Government

Cox failed to disclose several business interests, including a foreign tie, during candidacy

Rep. TJ Cox, D-Fresno, failed to disclose several business interests during his most recent congressional candidacies, including the fact that he sits on the board of a for-profit Canadian mining company, according to public records obtained by The Bee.

Cox, who defeated Republican incumbent David Valadao by less than 1,000 votes in 2018, has ties to dozens of businesses throughout the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. He’s an engineer by trade who also is involved in health care, senior care, real estate development and mining.

His most recent campaign disclosure form, filed on May 15, 2018, lists about three dozen assets. He filed a similar form in 2017 when he entered the race for California’s 10th District. Cox eventually switched out of the crowded 10th field and into the 21st.

One of Cox’s businesses, the Central Valley Community Sports Foundation, is under the state’s microscope for failing to file regular fee reports and was the subject of a city of Fresno audit that found questionable bookkeeping habits.

The congressman has stressed he’s working to divest from his various interests, but his disclosures do not seem to show the full scale of those business ties.

A Bee investigation found that Cox failed to disclose ties to five businesses, two of which he is still listed as a primary owner or director.

House rules require that candidates disclose their business ties from January of the previous year to the date the form is filed. This means Cox’s 10th District form must cover from Jan. 1, 2016 to Oct. 29, 2017, the date it was filed. His 21st form must cover Jan. 1, 2017, until May 15, 2018.

Canadian mining company board

Cox sits on the board of Constellation Mines, Ltd., a Canadian mining company. Canadian records, which the government says are updated within 15 days of any change, list him as a current director.

Under the For The People Act, the Democrats’ sweeping federal elections overhaul proposal, “a member, delegate, or resident commissioner may not serve on the board of directors of any for-profit entity.” The legislation also lays out various rules for dealing with foreign agents and entities.

Cox has been a vocal, public supporter of the act, which passed in the House on March 8 and seems unlikely to ever see the light of the Senate floor. Should it pass, Cox would be appear to be in violation of it.

California records also list Cox as the current manager of Troy Investment Partners, LLC, another mining business. He also is listed as the agent for Troy Equipment Leasing, LLC, formerly known as Troy Mining, LLC.

He is listed as the owner of CMSS I LP, a now-defunct property development company. The company was dissolved in March 2017, which fits within the time frame of business interests Cox must disclose in both his 10th and 21st district disclosures.

A similar property development company, CMSS II LP, is properly listed on his disclosure form.

JET Equipment, an Alaska-based company dissolved in 2016 by the state for failing to file an annual report and/or pay for the report, lists Cox as its sole owner and manager. It is described as a consultancy. Because it was still active in 2016, it should have been listed on his 2017 disclosure form.

tj cox
Congressman TJ Cox, D-Fresno Fresno Bee file

Cox campaign response

When asked about the status of his divestitures by McClatchy Washington Bureau reporter Kate Irby on Thursday, Cox said it requires a lot of paperwork and planning to leave a business.

“You don’t put together 10 or 15 years worth of businesses and get out overnight,” Cox said.

Cox cited his ownership of various commercial properties as one particularly tricky area.

“You can’t just get out of a loan overnight,” he said.

Cox said he wanted to be as open and transparent as possible and not leave any doubts over any potential conflicts of interests.

Brendan Fischer, director of the Federal Reform Program at the Campaign Legal Center, said it is not uncommon for lawmakers to make mistakes on financial disclosure forms and file amendments.

“There are potential civil penalties for filing false reports, but penalties are rare, unless the omission was knowing and willful,” Fischer said.

Those penalties are assessed by the House Committee on Ethics and can include fines of up to $50,000. In extreme cases, lying on the forms can be considered a federal crime and carry a penalty of up to five years in prison.

Home rental in question

It’s also unclear whether Cox has rented out his Fresno home in recent years as he’s spent time out of town. The home was listed for rent in 2014, 2015 and 2017. If Cox received rental income in 2017, it would have to be disclosed; his federal forms do not list any.

Cox received a $7,000 homeowner’s property tax exemption from Fresno County in each of these years — a tax break not available to owners who rent out their homes.

According to real estate website Zillow, Cox’s Fresno home was listed for rent in March 2014 and removed in April 2014. It was listed again on Nov. 11, 2015, and removed five days later.

The home was then up for rent again in March 2017, had its price lowered twice in March and April, then was removed on April 21, 2017.

It’s unclear if the listings were removed due to the home being rented out or if they were simply taken down.

Cox disclosed rental income from a home in Bethesda, Maryland, on his 2018 form. The Bee reported last year that Cox had been illegally collecting a homeowner’s exemption for that home, which he has since paid back.

Cox’s staff did not respond to a question regarding his Fresno home’s rental history.

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Rory Appleton is a fourth-generation Fresnan who covers politics for his hometown newspaper. A Fresno State graduate, he has won six first-place California News Publishers Association awards and a McClatchy President’s Award for his reporting and column writing over the last two years.