How disappointing. I thought Rep. Katie Porter was the rare California politician I could believe in. Turns out, Porter isn’t as ethically pure and upstanding as she would have the public believe.

I, along with countless other Americans, took to Porter after watching her virtuoso grilling of former Equifax CEO Mark Begor at a House Financial Services Committee hearing three years ago calling out the hypocrisy of his company’s legal defense of a major breach that exposed the personal data of its customers. The exchange easily ranked as one of the most entertaining of any Congressional hearing and was must-see C-SPAN TV. I’ve provided a link for your viewing enjoyment.

Porter, who represents an affluent section of Southern California’s Orange County, has fashioned herself as a champion of consumers who’s willing to take on big, bad ethically challenged corporations. In a 2020 article she posted on Medium, Porter railed against a political system that allows “the wealthy and well-connected” to “live in one reality while the rest of us live in another.” Porter promised to “speak truth to power.”

I believed her, despite Porter serving as Senator Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign manager, which in my mind was a warning sign. I once was a big believer in Warren, but I’ve tired of her faux “tax the rich rhetoric.” I’m all for making the rich pay their fair share, which is why I so strongly opposed the Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act, whose provisions include substantial tax deductions for luxury vehicles built in Mexico so that GM and Ford CEOs Mary Barra and Jim Farley can respectively earn more than $29 million and $23 million a year.

As Porter has made a name for herself calling out the hypocrisy of others, I hold her to a considerably higher standard. As the saying goes, people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

Porter isn’t the goody two-shoes Congressperson she’s made herself out to be. While Porter has decried the cost of housing in her Orange County district where homes sell for more than $1 million, she’s luxuriating in a four-bedroom, three-bath residence in a verdant subdivision on the University of California Irvine campus, which she snagged for a mere $523,000, a below market price even in 2011 when she closed on the place.

As reported by the Associated Press’ Brian Slodysko, UC Irvine gave Porter the sweetheart deal as part of a package the university uses to lure academics who couldn’t otherwise afford to live in the area, among the wealthiest places in the country. The condition for keeping the subsidized housing was that she continued working for the school.

From Slodysko’s report:

For Porter, this version of subsidized housing has outlasted her time in the classroom, now extending nearly four years after she first took unpaid leave from her $258,000-a-year teaching job to serve in the U.S. House.

But the ties go deeper, with at least one law school administrator, who was also a donor to her campaign, helping secure extensions of her tenure while she remained in Congress, according to university emails obtained by The Associated Press.

That has allowed Porter, a rising Democratic star and fundraising powerhouse whose own net worth is valued at as much as $2 million, to retain her home even as her return to the school remains in doubt.

“It sounds like the sort of insider deal that really makes people mad at Congress,” Bradley A. Smith, a professor at Capital University Law School in Columbus, Ohio,” told Slodysko. Smith is a Republican former member of the Federal Election Commission who was appointed by Bill Clinton.

AP’s Brian Slodysko/LinkedIn

Porter in an interview with Slodysko declined to say whether her housing arrangement was appropriate but argued that she “followed the applicable (University of California) policies, as well as all applicable state and federal law.”

In arguing that she didn’t break any laws, Porter sounds like Ford Motor Co., which earlier this year agreed to a $19.2 million multistate settlement for lying in its advertising for several years. When asked for comment, Ford spokesperson Cathy Hargett told the Detroit News, “We are pleased that the matter is closed without any judicial finding of improper conduct.”

Doing what’s legal, rather than what’s right, is why Ford so far this year has issued 52 safety recalls and is facing multiple class action lawsuits, some alleging that Ford knowingly sold vehicles that it knew were defective.  

As reported by Slodysko, UC Irvine’s subsidized housing rules require that when academics are no longer employed by the school, they are expected to pay off the mortgages on their subsidized housing “within months.” Slodysko doesn’t make clear if the university is the lender on the property or has some agreement to purchase it back at a below market rate.

Initially, administrators signed off on two separate one-year periods of leave that enabled Porter to keep her home. But school officials voiced more concern about the arrangement in the run-up to Porter’s 2020 reelection, according to emails obtained by the Associated Press.

“Is there any fixed limit on the number of years of leave without pay … One of our administrators mentioned that they seemed to recall a two-year limit,” law school Vice Dean Chris Whytock wrote in an April 2020 email. He added: “Some government service may, of course, last for a number of years.”

Chris Whytock/YouTube screenshot

Whytock, who donated $500 to Porter’s campaign in 2018, argued to extend Porter’s leave, insisting there were no limits on how long such a sweetheart arrangement could continue. UC Irvine’s provost granted the extension.

A major contributor to Porter’s campaigns is the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), which claims to represent 70,000 IRS employees and likely will benefit from a provision in the Inflation Reduction Act that provides for the hiring of nearly 87,000 IRS employees over the next decade. Many of the new IRS hires could join the union, whose political action committee almost exclusively supports Democratic politicians and committees.

Porter lobbied to increase IRS funding, arguing that it would prevent the “ultra-wealthy” from cheating on their taxes. In fact, the newly hired IRS employees will target working and middle-class Americans to pay more taxes and help offset the tax breaks Congress will provide the wealthy to purchase mostly luxury electric vehicles. The IRS rarely goes after the ultra-wealthy because they respond with an army of high priced lawyers.

Another major recipient of the NTEU’s largesse is Mike Levin, whose district also includes parts of Orange County.

“This is corruption at its worst. Katie Porter and Mike Levin’s donor gets a kickback and the middle-class gets a kick in the teeth from Joe Biden’s IRS Army,” National Republican Congressional Committee spokesperson Torunn Sinclair said in a published statement.

Sadly, Porter isn’t the only California Congressperson receiving a sweetheart deal from a university.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Rep. Karen Bass, a leading candidate in Los Angeles’ mayoralty race, got a nearly $100,000 scholarship from the University of Southern California to study social work without Bass having to apply for the benefit. USC is in Bass’ district.

Although the Times said federal prosecutors have given no indication that Bass is under criminal investigation, the publication reported that Bass’ scholarship and her dealings with USC are “critical” to their broader portrayal of corruption in the university’s social work program.

Marilyn Flynn, the former dean of USC’s social work program, and former L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, have both been indicted on bribery and fraud charges related to a scholarship like the one awarded to Bass.  The Times did a poor job explaining why the feds haven’t also targeted Bass.

Regardless, a Congressperson receiving a full scholarship that she didn’t apply for from a university in her district has a bad odor to it, particularly from the University of Southern California, infamously known for its prominent role in the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal.

I had no previous hopes or expectations for Bass, but I did for Porter. Let’s just say I no longer hold her in the same high regard as I once did. I fear she’s possibly just an Elizabeth Warren knockoff.

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