Thanks to Dodd, Connecticut lawmakers disclose mortgages

Washington — For the first time ever, Connecticut’s congressional delegation and other members of the U.S. House and Senate must now disclose information about their personal mortgages.

They can thank former Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd, whose controversial receipt of a questionable home mortgage deal four years ago inspired the new requirement.

Among members of the Connecticut House delegation, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd, holds the largest mortgages, according to personal financial disclosure reports released last week.

DeLauro reported owing somewhere between $501,000 and $1 million on her Washington, D.C., townhouse and between $501,000 and $1 million on her home in New Haven.

Lawmakers are required to report the liabilities on their homes in broad ranges, the top one being an unspecified amount greater than $50 million.

Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, reported the smallest mortgage of between $50,000 and $100,000 on his personal residence.

Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, reported a mortgage of between $100,000 and $250,000 on his home in East Hartford, and an equity credit line on that property of between $50,000 and $100,000.

Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5th District, reported owing between $250,000 and $500,000 on his Connecticut home.

The first-ever release of mortgage information was at least partially spurred by an attempt in Congress to tighten ethics rules in the wake of the mortgage scandal that enveloped Dodd in 2008 and 2009.

Dodd, who now heads the Motion Picture Association of America but was once chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, found himself at the center of a political firestorm when news broke that he had received preferential treatment in securing a mortgage from Countrywide Financial Corp.

Dodd and other high-profile Washington insiders were reported to have lower interest rates on their mortgages because they were on a list of “friends” of then-Countrywide chairman Angelo Mozilo.

Dodd was eventually cleared of wrongdoing by the Senate Ethics Committee, but the incident led Congress to include a provision requiring disclosure of mortgage information in the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act, or Stock Act, that aims to stop insider trading. Congress approved the Stock Act earlier this year.

The new law’s rules for disclosure differ in the House and Senate, which has more stringent requirements.

Senators must disclose interest rates, for example, while representatives need not.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., disclosed that he is currently paying 4.25 percent interest on an adjustable rate mortgage on his home in Washington, D.C. He listed his debt at between $250,000 and $500,000.

Lieberman holds a second mortgage, in the amount of between $100,000 and $250,000, for his home in Stamford, his filings show. That money was borrowed at a 3.875 percent interest rate.

Like many Americans, Lieberman, DeLauro and Courtney took advantage of today’s lower interest rates by refinancing mortgages last year.

Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., received extensions to file their disclosure forms.

“Senator Blumenthal requested an extension …because not all of the necessary information was available by the filing deadline,” said Blumenthal press secretary Nu Wexler.

Himes had trouble filing his report, the lawmaker’s press secretary, Elizabeth Kerr said.

John Wonderlich, policy director of the Sunlight Foundation, an open government group, said the new financial disclosures are welcome — but are not enough.

He said lawmakers should also be required to report the value of their homes — whether they are mortgaged —  and the profit or loss in the sale of a residence.

But he said it’s unlikely Congress will address ethics issues again anytime soon.

“They feel they’ve done enough,” Wonderlich said. “Everybody is happy to take credit for doing something.”