Democratic congressional candidate Ken Harbaugh pays thousands in taxes over residency issue

September 18, 2018 GMT

Democratic congressional candidate Ken Harbaugh pays thousands in taxes over residency issue

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Ohio Democratic congressional candidate Ken Harbaugh wrote a check on Monday, his campaign said, after Republican political operatives questioned a property tax break he’d received on a house he owns in Connecticut.

At issue was a property tax deduction Harbaugh had received on the house for years through a Connecticut state program for military veterans. Harbaugh, a formal U.S. Navy pilot, had been eligible for the tax break when he bought the house in 2005. 

But he and his wife, Annmarie, left Connecticut in 2009, when they moved to Chagrin Falls. They continue to own the house, which they now rent out. They forgot about the tax break and failed to update it after they moved out to reflect they no longer lived there, his campaign said.

Harbaugh, who is challenging Republican Rep. Bob Gibbs, wrote a $3,800 check to the Hamden, Connecticut, city government after his campaign said he learned of the issue from a digital campaign attacking him a few days prior.

Harbaugh said in an email that unlike Gibbs, who is wealthy, Harbaugh and his family are middle-class.

“Each year, like most folks we know, my wife and I do our taxes around the dining room table,” he said. “On the tax form, there is an exemption for veterans and I checked that box. I first heard about this story on Thursday. I called the local office Friday and paid the appropriate taxes [on Monday]. That’s what good leaders do — they learn all the facts and take swift action. Those are two things Bob Gibbs knows nothing about.”

In a statement, Gibbs campaign spokesman Dallas Gerber said: “It’s bad enough Ken raises over a million dollars from out of state, is he using tax breaks to claim residency out of state, too? Is Ken Harbaugh a tax cheat? A carpetbagger? We need honest leaders in Congress, not people who cheat on their taxes.”

Harbaugh, a first-time candidate and former non-profit executive, is considered a long-shot in unseating Gibbs, who represents Ohio’s 7th Congressional District, one of Ohio’s most conservative districts. But his spirited and well-funded campaign, plus the occasional attacks from Republican groups against him, has drawn outsize interest to the race.

An anti-Harbaugh attack website, funded by a Super PAC called the Fund for a Working Congress and built by Republican political firm Majority Strategies, was launched on Thursday to call attention to the tax break on the Connecticut house. The site, which includes an image of the Connecticut home’s 2017 tax bill, dubbed Harbaugh as “Connecticut Ken” who “claimed” to live in Ohio.

Harbaugh lived in Ohio between 2009 and 2014, when he moved to California to help run an international nonprofit training military veterans to respond to natural disasters. He moved back to Ohio in 2016, when his family bought a house in Avon. Local elections records show he is registered to vote there. 

The Harbaugh campaign said the military lifestyle involves frequent relocations, which makes taxes more complex. Michael Simic, a certified public accountant in Parma, said that’s true.

“It’s way more complex than somebody who has one place and residence, absolutely,” Simic said. 

The Fund for a Working Congress late last week disclosed paying Majority Strategies $79,328 on digital advertising attacking Harbaugh. Harbaugh called the PAC “one more example of Bob Gibbs taking corporate money and using it against hard-working Ohioans.”

Federal elections records show Fund for a Working Congress, based out of a PO Box in Maryland, has three donors this election cycle. They are Karen Buchwald Wright, president and CEO of the Knox County-based Ariel Corporation and top Ohio GOP donor who gave $200,000, and two groups with connections to conservative Ohio “dark money” networks — the American Policy Coalition in Maryland, which gave $83,000 and “A Public Voice,′ a non-profit registered to a mobile home in Perry County, which gave $40,000. 

The Fund for a Working Congress also has run ads in one other Ohio congressional race. In June, paid tens of thousands of additional dollars to Majority Strategies, including in April to fund political mailers supporting now 12th Congressional District Rep. Troy Balderson and attacking Melanie Leneghan, Balderson’s opponent in the Republican primary for that seat.

Besides working for the anti-Harbaugh Super PAC, Majority Strategies also has done work for Gibbs’ campaign. But Majority Strategies CEO Brett Buerck said his company has a firewall policy, written by Ben Ginbsurg, a top Republican campaign-finance law expert, to prevent the firm from running afoul of federal elections law, which bars candidate committees from coordinating with Super PACs.

“All members of our staff are required to sign the policy and it is strictly enforced,” Buerck said in an email. “As it is, I am sure, for dozens of other Democrat and Republican firms across the country who also work on multiple sides of different issues or campaigns.”

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