Political Notebook

TJ Cox signed document claiming Maryland as residence; campaign calls it ‘honest mistake’

TJ Cox “made an honest mistake” when he marked a second home in Maryland as his principal residence, the Fresno Democrat’s campaign said Tuesday.

Spokesmen for the campaign last week claimed the principal residence declaration was the result of an error by the state. The campaign then characterized it as Cox’s mistake after The Bee provided it with a notarized public document showing Cox had initialed and signed a section saying the home was his primary residence.

Cox, a Democrat who owns several businesses in the central San Joaquin Valley, is running against Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, for California’s 21st Congressional District seat.

The Bee previously reported that Cox owned a three-bedroom, four-bathroom house in Bethesda, Maryland – a Washington, D.C., suburb – and claimed the nearly $1 million home as a principal residence. Cox also claimed a Fresno home as his principal residence, and federal tax laws do not allow an individual to claim more than one.

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Campaign spokesman Phillip Vander Klay said Tuesday that, after The Bee brought the issue to his attention, Cox contacted the state of Maryland and Montgomery County, where his home is located, to change his residency status. He also is willing to refund the $692 tax credit he received from the county as a result of the error, Vander Klay added.

State property records show the home is no longer classified as Cox’s principal residence.

When asked why Cox did not notice the error in 2017, when he collected the tax credit, Vander Klay said: “It was an honest mistake that he filled out the principal residence not knowing the legal definitions. His family was living there.”

“That’s just kind of the situation,” Vander Klay added. “We are working to get this fixed.”

Document trail

Last week, property records showed Cox claimed the home was his principal residence in 2016, 2017 and 2018. The records also indicated Cox received a $692 tax credit in the fiscal year ending June 30.

After last week’s story was published online, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Andrew Godinich told The Bee that the state of Maryland had automatically marked the home as Cox’s principal residence. He said that was a mistake, as Cox’s principal residence is in Fresno.

That was not true. The state did not incorrectly mark Cox’s residency.

Fallon Patton, a spokeswoman for Maryland’s Department of Assessments and Taxation, said the state documents showing the Bethesda home as Cox’s principal residence were coded based off of information filed by Montgomery County during the sale of the home. She directed any questions about the residency status or county property tax credit to Montgomery County.

On Monday, Montgomery County spokesman Patrick Lacefield provided The Bee with a copy of a portion of Cox’s deed for the Bethesda home.

Cox maryland property
Property records from Montgomery County in Maryland show TJ Cox initialed and signed a document noting his Bethesda home was his principal residence. When The Bee first reported the residence, Cox said the state had made an error and incorrectly marked the home as his principal residence. Montgomery County

The document shows Cox initialed two sections, meant to be read together. They read: “The grantee is an individual who has never owned in the state of Maryland residential real property that has been the individual’s principal residence, and the residence will be occupied by the grantee as the grantee’s principal residence.”

Cox signed the document, which was notarized on July 29, 2016. L. Desmond, a notary licensed at the time in Fresno County, confirmed Cox’s identity and signed it.

Lacefield said the state collects its information from deeds, then Montgomery County uses the state information to dispense tax credits. In general, most owner-operated properties receive the credit. The owners do not have to apply for them.

Since Cox’s deed said the Bethesda home was his principal residence, he received the credit, Lacefield said.

However, Lacefield said Montgomery County requires all recipients of this credit to live in their home for at least six months out of the year. If you do not, the tax credit is revoked.

The county does not typically check back to verify the property owner is actually living in his or her principal residence, Lacefield said, but it does investigate complaints made by other residents about possible abuses such as the home being used as a rental property but still collecting this homeowner tax.

The Internal Revenue Service allows a person to have only one principal residence in the country, defined as “your main home.” The primary factor in determining “your main home” is whichever domicile you spend the most time in. The IRS defines this as a “main home,” and even if you split time between two residences, you cannot claim more than one main home.

Vander Klay said Cox bought the Bethesda home for his family to live in while his wife, Dr. Kathleen Murphy, studied public health policy at Johns Hopkins University. She is still working to complete her degree, but she and their four children moved back to Fresno about a year ago.

Cox lived and worked in Fresno as his family lived in Maryland, Vander Klay said.

Race to November

Cox and Valadao have the firm backing of their parties, as the two sides battle for a district Valadao has kept a tight grip on despite voter registration and 2016 presidential voting heavily favoring a Democrat.

Even prior to the discovery of Cox’s Maryland home, Valadao’s campaign called Cox an outsider. His Fresno home is located in the 16th District, represented by Fresno Democrat Jim Costa.

In March, Cox switched races from the 10th District, where he had been running against Rep. Jeff Denham, to the 21st. He had been renting a home in Modesto and has since moved back to Fresno full-time, his campaign said.

In 2006, he failed to unseat Republican George Radanovich in the 19th District, losing by more than 20 percentage points.

Cox has attacked Valadao’s voting record, saying it mirrors a Republican agenda that has dire consequences for the thousands of low-income, uninsured or undocumented residents of the 21st.

Rory Appleton: 559-441-6015, @RoryDoesPhonics