The U.S. Senate campaign of Linda McMahon, a Republican from Connecticut, has filed an ethics complaint against McMahon’s opponent, Congressman Chris Murphy (D-CT), with the Office of Congressional Ethics. The complaint charges that Murphy received preferential treatment in 2008 from Webster Bank when the bank offered him a mortgage interest rate of 4.9 percent on a home equity line of credit in the amount of $43,000.
The interest rate was allegedly extended to Murphy by the bank, following his default on his 2007 home mortgage, also through Webster Bank, and a 2005 tax lien placed upon his house for failure to pay property taxes. Murphy was also sued, in a separate action, for nonpayment of rent for an apartment in Southington, CT in December of 2003.
Chris Murphy has been a member of Congress since 2007. According to Kevin Rennie of the Hartford Courant, by 2008, the year after Murphy faced foreclosure on his home, “banks were in a lot of trouble and starting to squeeze borrowers. Webster Bank was in enough trouble that it would receive $400 million in federal aid in 2009.” Despite this fact, Webster Bank did lend Murphy more money in 2008 for his home equity line of credit. In addition, Murphy received contributions from Webster Bank’s political action committee at various times during 2008.
In a recent statement, Webster Bank denied giving preferential treatment to Congressman Murphy. The bank states that its PAC donated a total of $2,100 to Murphy’s congressional campaigns between 2008 and 2010, and has not donated to his campaign since that time. Webster Bank asserts that Murphy’s service on the House Financial Services Committee had no effect on its banking relationship with him.
Nevertheless, the situation is eerily reminiscent of the scandal associated with another Connecticut politician, former Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT), who retired in 2010, and who has been accused, by the current House Committee on Oversight, of receiving special treatment by subprime mortgage lender Countrywide Financial, in an attempt to influence policy in Congress. Dodd, and other members of Congress who were said to have received VIP loans from Countrywide, also received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the mortgage company. Murphy, who worked for Dodd at one time, has said that he considers himself to be a protégé of the former lawmaker.
Murphy’s campaign initially issued a rather “shaky” statement about his mortgage default, indicating that he and his wife, who were married in 2007, “missed a couple of mortgage payments” when they were starting out and in the process of merging their finances. Several days ago, Murphy acknowledged that he has been careless with his personal finances. “Ultimately, I’m not a perfect person,” he said. However, he did not clearly address his history, at least since 2003, of failure to pay rent, mortgage, and property taxes.
The scandal comes on the heels of a recent ad from the McMahon campaign that criticizes Murphy for missing nearly 80% of congressional hearings for the committees to which he was assigned during his first term in Congress. The Hartford Courant found this ad to be generally accurate.
Murphy has countered McMahon’s campaign with his own ad in which he defends that it is his voting record that counts- not attendance at committee hearings- and boasts that he has a 98% voting record on committee legislation.
Chris Murphy appears to have a history of irresponsibility toward creditors and in fulfilling his part of a financial contract. As a mostly party-line voter, the ease with which he dismisses his failure to attend most congressional committee hearings suggests that he could care less about understanding the details and nuances of legislation that are more clearly perceived during those hearings.
Congressman Murphy owes Connecticut voters- his employers- honest details about his relationship with Webster Bank. With the national economy in a dire situation, Connecticut voters should take stock of whether Murphy has the strength of character and the level of responsibility required to be their next senator.