Burr sold townhouse for $900K to lobbyists who had business before his committees: report

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrSenate GOP opens door to smaller coronavirus deal as talks lag Hillicon Valley: Google extending remote work policy through July 2021 | Intel community returns final Russia report to Senate committee after declassification | Study finds election officials vulnerable to cyberattacks Intel community returns final Russia report volume to Senate after declassification review MORE (R-N.C.) sold a townhouse for $900,000 to lobbyists who had business before his committee, ProPublica reported Tuesday.

Burr sold his Washington, D.C., townhouse in 2017 to a team led by lobbyist John Green for $900,000, but some estimates show the price was tens of thousands of dollars above market value. Burr completed the sale off-market, meaning the property was not listed for sale publicly.

Several ethics experts expressed concern to ProPublica over the transaction between Burr and the lobbyist, saying its legality depends on whether the property was bought for a fair market value. 

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A spokesperson for Burr shot down the idea of any impropriety in the sale.

“Senator Burr sold his Washington, D.C. townhome at fair market value, directly in line with comparable properties recently sold in the area," the spokesperson said in a statement. "The sale was finalized in February 2017 after a months-long process, which included an independent appraisal confirming the building’s market value and legal review of the title and contract. The Senate Ethics Committee was notified before the sale and the Committee’s guidance was followed on all relevant public financial disclosures.”

If the property was purchased for a higher amount than the fair market value, then it would be designated as a gift, which are banned under Senate rules. Transactions that are not gifts are required to be disclosed, but Burr and Green both did not disclose the purchase. 

Tax assessors valued the property at $796,720, more than $100,000 less than Green and his team purchased it for, although tax assessment values are typically lower than market prices. The real estate website Redfin estimated the value at $813,973 the month it was sold. 

But proving the purchase was above market value is difficult, Craig Holman, a lobbyist for the watchdog group Public Citizen, told ProPublica.

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Green has been a consistent donor to the senator and co-hosted at least one fundraiser for him. In 2017, the year the townhouse was purchased, Green represented multiple clients who had business before Burr’s committees, including the pharmaceutical industry and the National Rifle Association.

The lobbyist and his associates had planned to use the townhouse as a lobbying office and a location for fundraisers and for clients and associates to stay instead of a hotel, a person familiar with the transactions told the news outlet.

Green said in a statement to ProPublica that he has “not lobbied the Senator or worked on an issue with his office personally since 2016.” His spokesperson gave the news outlet an analysis from December 2018 showing the limited liability company (LLC) commissioned to value the property.

The North Carolina senator has come under scrutiny in recent weeks as ProPublica reported he sold between $628,000 and $1.72 million of stock a week before the market crashed, while at the same time reassuring the public about the coronavirus. 

The coronavirus pandemic has since caused the market to plummet as lockdowns and stay-at-home orders around the world are reducing economic activity.