Political Notebook

Congressional ethics office gets new complaints about Nunes’ wine business, financial disclosures

In this Feb. 6, 2018, photo, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, walks with Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., also a member of the Intelligence Committee, at the Capitol in Washington.
In this Feb. 6, 2018, photo, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, walks with Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., also a member of the Intelligence Committee, at the Capitol in Washington. Associated Press

Two organizations sent letters to the Office of Congressional Ethics Wednesday demanding an investigation into Rep. Devin Nunes’ business investments.

The Campaign for Accountability alleged that Nunes, chair of the House Intelligence Committee who represents Tulare and Fresno counties, may have violated federal law by leaving out information on his financial disclosure forms.

In the complaint, the left-leaning federal government watchdog group in Washington, D.C., questions the congressman's affiliation with three California companies and whether he deliberately omitted information about his investments or failed to report any financial gifts he received from the companies' owners.

The complaint points to his investment in Alpha Omega, a Napa County winery listed as one of his primary assets, that he reported he purchased a piece of in 2006 for between $50,001 and $100,000 but receives little income from each year "despite (the winery's) apparent success."

The complaint also takes issue with Nunes' reported investment in Phase 2 Cellars — also owned by San Luis Obispo vintner Robin Baggett — because it is less than what other investors in the company were required to pay, according to a contract obtained by Campaign for Accountability.

A spokeswoman for Alpha Omega released a brief statement about the new complaint on Wednesday. "It’s quite common for our investors to purchase partial shares, which is what Mr. Nunes has done," Kelly Carter, director of communications, said in an email.

Another issue: Vidonia LLC, a financial holding company that was in business between 2006 and 2009, listed Nunes and his wife as beneficial owners, but none of Nunes' disclosure forms mention the company.

The complaint points to the House ethics manual, which says that all members of the House must conduct themselves at all times in a manner that reflects credibly of the House.

"This rule has been relied on by the ethics committee in numerous prior cases in which the committee found unethical conduct including the failure to report campaign contributions; making false statements to the committee, criminal convictions for bribery or accepting illegal gratuities and accepting gifts from persons with interest in legislation in violation of the gift rule," the complaint says.

Also on Wednesday, a complaint against Nunes was filed with the Office of Congressional Ethics by the Swamp Accountability Project, an anti-Trump group in D.C. vowing to go after both political parties that do wrong.

In an interview with The Bee, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, was asked if he planned to host any local forums or town hall meetings. "Your paper is a joke to even bring these issues up or raise these issues," Nunes responded.

That complaint focuses on an Alpha Omega sexual harassment lawsuit settled in 2015 that alleged that the company hosted a fundraiser on a yacht with top investors using cocaine and hiring sex workers — "some who appeared too young to consent."

Nunes has not answered questions about his knowledge of or involvement in that incident. Alpha Omega has denied the accusations in the lawsuit, which was settled for an undisclosed amount.

"As I am also sure you aware, Americans’ trust in our institutions, including Congress, is currently low. An important way of redressing this lack of confidence will be to ensure the robust application of the Code, and better ethics in government, starting with Congress itself," the Swamp Accountability Project complaint says, signed by Liz Mair, a political commentator who formerly worked for the Republican National Committee. "For this reason, OCE should prioritize a review of Rep. Nunes’ investment and involvement in the Alpha Omega Winery, and the facts reported by The Fresno Bee. Such review should be undertaken as swiftly as possible."

Another left-leaning nonprofit, the American Democracy Legal Fund, filed a complaint last month alleging Nunes violated the house ethics rule regarding the Alpha Omega lawsuit.

Nunes' office did not return requests for comment Wednesday.

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