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Mack's disclosure forms suggest financial link

TAMPA In defending the dual homestead exemptions he and his wife Mary Bono hold, U.S. Rep. Connie Mack said through his attorney this week that he and Bono keep their finances separate. But the financial disclosure forms Mack files annually as a member of Congress could suggest otherwise. The forms indicate that he is part of a company formed with Bono to buy a ski resort condo in Colorado, and that his financial health substantially improved immediately after the two married in December 2006. Property records for the Colorado condo refer to Mack and Bono as California residents. Bono is a Republican congresswoman from Palm Springs.
Mack's lawyer, Craig Engle of Washington, said Tuesday that Mack didn't contribute financially to the purchase of the Colorado property, and that his share of the ownership company has no value. He said the reference on the Colorado deed to the couple as California residents doesn't mean he lives there, and any involvement in the Colorado transaction would not indicate "financial dependence." The issue of financial ties between the two arises because both have homestead exemptions for property taxes on residences they own and claim as their permanent residences – his condo in Tamarind Cay in Fort Myers and her house in Palm Springs. Florida laws and the state Constitution say a family unit, which typically includes a married couple, is entitled to only one homestead exemption. Engle said Florida court cases and legal opinions indicate exceptions can be made for a couple who aren't financially interdependent on each other, and contended that Mack and Bono are "two separate people with two separate permanent residences who are financially independent." He said that means Mack is entitled to the homestead exemption. The exemption allows a Florida homeowner who lives in the home to exempt up to $50,000 of its value from property taxation, so a home appraised at $200,000 would be assessed and taxed at $150,000. The exemption on Mack's condo, appraised at $141,897, saves him about $800 a year in taxes, according to documents from the Lee County Property Appraiser's Office. In an interview Monday, Engle denied that Mack had any interest in the Colorado property or in Westerfield Scotch LLC, a corporation he said was formed by Bono and her children to own it, despite indications in the disclosure forms and property records: The financial disclosure reports show financial values as ranges, not specific amounts, so figures based on the reports aren't exact. Engle said Mack's share of the company has no value, and the transaction and ownership share were shown on his disclosure forms only because of congressional reporting requirements. "You're not allowed to use a zero" as the value of a listed item, he said. He said the fact that Mack has some paperwork ties to Bono's transactions doesn't mean he isn't qualified for a separate homestead exemption. In a 2010 case, a Florida appeals court said a married couple could hold two separate homestead exemptions because the couple, who were separated, "have no financial connection with and do not provide benefits, income, or support to each other." Mack's net worth, as calculated by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan watchdog group on money in politics, shot up dramatically after his marriage to Bono. The Center shows Mack's net worth in 2006 as between $400,000 and a negative $750,000, meaning $750,000 in debt. That included two mortgages totaling $600,000 to $1.25 million on a Washington, D.C.-area home he bought after his 2004 election to Congress. The 2007 report indicates a positive net worth of $568,074 to $2,095,000, and the mortgages disappeared. Engle said that is because Mack sold the house and paid them off. Most of the assets listed on Mack's disclosure reports after 2006 are labeled assets of Bono, not Mack. A Center spokesman said its net worth calculations include spousal assets even though the congressman filing the reports may not own the spousal assets.

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