Rep. Burgess Owens’ congressionally required report disclosing his personal finances had problems.
The freshman Utah Republican reported amounts in the “current year” column, implying he made money from speaking engagements as a sitting congressman, which would be a violation of House rules. The filing also made it seem as if he was still on the payroll of Second Chance 4 Youth, a charity he previously led.
But his office says those were errors.
The report, filed in August, also misreported how much money he made from the charity the previous year and didn’t explain his role in that organization or any other, as required.
It also identified him as a consultant for Dow Jones, but now his team says that $800 was payment for an editorial he wrote for The Wall Street Journal, which is owned by Dow Jones.
These reports have been required of every member of Congress every year since 1978. They give the public a peek into the finances of lawmakers, including sources of income, debts, stock transactions and any trips paid for by others.
Owens’ office says it made some rookie mistakes. After receiving questions from The Salt Lake Tribune, it filed an amended disclosure Monday.
“Congressman Owens is a conservative leader, not a career politician experienced with bureaucratic forms,” his office said in written responses to Tribune questions. “Most members, including Congressman Owens, correct their filings on an ongoing basis as new information becomes available.”
Utah Democrats argue this isn’t just a series of simple mistakes; rather, they say, it fits a pattern. Owens had problems with these same personal financial forms as a candidate and also had to file an amendment then. And he got fined nearly $4,000 by the Federal Election Commission for failing to appropriately disclose campaign contributions in the last days of his successful 2020 race.
“It’s deeply concerning that Rep. Owens would minimize yet another financial failure,” said Joshua Rush, spokesman for the Utah Democratic Party. “If Burgess Owens can’t keep his own house in order, how can Utahns trust him to represent them soundly?”
‘It is my dream’
Rush confronted Owens at a late August town hall, relying on information from the initial inaccurate financial disclosure.
“Are you still receiving payments from Second Chance 4 Youth?” Rush asked the lawmaker. “And how do you justify lying either to the clerk of the House of Representatives or your constituents?”
Owens responded that Rush’s questions were disrespectful. He also said, “No, I’m not receiving any more money. Yes, I’m still consulting with them because it is my dream.”
The Utah Republican could legally receive payment for work on behalf of the charity as long as he disclosed it, and it stayed under the limit set by Congress for outside income, which is roughly $26,000 a year.
Second Chance 4 Youth says it works with underprivileged teens, including those who get in trouble with the law.
A September 2020 story from The Utah Investigative Journalism Project, published by The Tribune, found that the charity had failed to properly register and that none of its money went to helping incarcerated youths.
Owens, at his recent town hall, promised the charity soon will have a bigger presence, including a food truck.
As a congressional candidate, Owens reported that he got paid $70,000 from Second Chance 4 Youth in 2019. He eventually filed an amendment that said he actually received $37,409.
In his latest, amended filing, he said he took in $15,250 in 2020 and that the money came from an Indiana think tank called the Sagamore Institute. That pay was for his work with Second Chance 4 Youth. This is a smaller amount than he reported in August. At that time, he said he made $19,250. His office said the error stemmed from an inaccurate tax document.
The bottom line
At the request of The Tribune, Bryson Morgan, a former House Ethics Committee lawyer who is now in private practice, reviewed Owens’ original report.
“There’s some real sloppiness here,” said Morgan, who is from Utah.
Morgan now works for Caplin & Drysdale, a leading elections and political law firm in Washington, D.C. He has advised Republicans and Democrats on how to fill out these forms. And he notes that members of Congress have plenty of help to ensure that they disclose their finances properly.
He pointed out errors in Owens’ first report, including that the congressman listed income for the “current year” and that he didn’t disclose what position he held for companies, even though in another section he said he was a consultant.
“At best,” Morgan said, “this is a very cavalier attitude toward the ethics requirements.”
Owens takes issue with that. His office called it a “baseless allegation.” It said the errors were based on “inaccurate projections” and “incorrect tax documents.”
The congressman’s office ran this amended report by the House Ethics Committee before filing it.
“Bottom line,” the office said, “Congressman Owens has fully reported his personal finances.”
What’s in the new report?
Owens now reports that he made $15,145 in 2020 from his NFL pension. He played for the Oakland Raiders and New York Jets.
He got $4,639 in royalties for books he has written, the most recent being a 2016 volume titled “Liberalism or How to Turn Good Men Into Whiners, Weenies and Wimps.”
He received $2,500 in speaking fees through the Young America’s Foundation, which is a place to book conservative speakers.
He also participated in two multilevel marketing operations — Melaleuca and Quintessential Biosciences. He made $1,193 from Melaleuca, which sells a variety of products from essential oils to cleaning supplies. He made $300 from Quintessential Biosciences, which sells dietary supplements.
His report for 2021 should be simpler, containing his NFL pension and maybe some book royalties. His office said, “As we did for 2020, we’ll fully report all financials for 2021.”
Editor’s note • The Salt Lake Tribune has contracted with Caplin & Drysdale for guidance on the newspaper’s status as a nonprofit news organization.