Congressman TJ Cox did not disclose some business interests as required. That’s troubling

TJ Cox discusses how he’s divesting himself of various business ties

Representative TJ Cox, Fresno, California, did not reveal business interests during the 2018 election. He discussed how he's divesting himself of those business ties.
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Representative TJ Cox, Fresno, California, did not reveal business interests during the 2018 election. He discussed how he's divesting himself of those business ties.

Last October, in the heat of the fall campaign, Democrat TJ Cox was seeking the 21st congressional seat when the news broke that he had improperly claimed two different homes to be his primary residence and received tax breaks as a result.

As reported by Bee staff writer Rory Appleton, one residence was in Fresno, the other in Bethesda, Maryland. That is where his wife and children lived while she studied public health at Johns Hopkins University.

Cox’s campaign spokesman said he had made an honest mistake and that the situation would be remedied. The candidate paid back to Maryland a $692 tax credit he had received. And, seemingly, case closed. Cox went on to beat incumbent Republican David Valadao by less than 1,000 votes.

Now comes news from Appleton that Cox did not properly disclose on campaign disclosure forms five of his business interests. One includes a company in another country.

An elected official to a national office who has a business interest in a foreign nation. Isn’t that what the Democrats are upset at President Donald Trump about — his dealing for a hotel in Russia?

But in this instance, it is Cox who sits on the board of a Canadian mining company, Constellation Mines Ltd.

The situations involving Trump and Cox are vastly different, of course. But they share this troubling similarity: appearance of a conflict of interest.

The House has disclosure rules to ensure that representatives avoid financial conflicts, even the appearance of ones. Members are to disclose their interests so the public can judge if a congressman or woman is voting properly, or wrongly using their office to pass legislation that will profit a business he or she has an interest in.

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

Now comes a new measure put forth by House Democrats called the For The People Act. An elections overhaul proposal, it would forbid House members from sitting on boards of any for-profit entity. Cox is a co-sponsor of the act, which passed the House in March but likely won’t be taken up by the GOP-controlled Senate.

Cox is an engineer by trade who has business interests in health care, senior care, real estate and mining. He has ties to dozens of businesses throughout the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond.

When asked by McClatchy Washington Bureau reporter Kate Irby about divesting from the many companies he has, Cox said it requires planning, paperwork and takes time. He also got a late start since his race was not decided until all ballots were counted weeks after the election.

But divesting is not the issue. Rather, it is being up front on disclosure forms required of every member of the House.

Among the committees Cox sits on is Natural Resources. It handles legislation dealing with energy production, fisheries and wildlife, oceans, public lands, irrigation and reclamation, Native Americans — and mineral lands and mining.

So outlining his personal mining interests, however minimal or extensive they may be, is absolutely something Cox needs to do.

He told Irby that he wants to be as open and transparent as possible. That should go without saying for every elected official from Fresno to Washington.

What the people of the 21st District need most is for Cox to avoid these bothersome paperwork errors that call his competence into question. The citizens living in the sprawling district — it covers all of Kings County and parts of Fresno, Tulare and Kern counties — need him focused on weightier matters of health care, immigration reform, water development and economic renewal.

The clock is ticking. In less than a year, Cox is up for re-election in a district the GOP has targeted to recapture. He would be smart to get his records in order.