Rep. Katie Porter's four-bedroom, three-bathroom home in a quiet enclave near the UC Irvine campus is a steal compared to the median price of a home in Orange County, California, which is $1 million.
The law professor and left-leaning Democrat, who has complained about the high cost of living in her district, bought the home in 2011 for $523,000, a discount obtained through a university program designed to entice faculty members who otherwise could not be able to live in the affluent neighborhood. If she kept her job at the school, she would be eligible.
After taking an unpaid break from her $258,000 annual teaching salary to serve in the U.S. House, Porter has been living in this form of subsidized housing longer than she did in the classroom.
University emails acquired by the Associated Press show even deeper ties, with at least one law school administrator who was also a supporter to her campaign helping gain tenure extensions for her while she remained in Congress.
Porter, a rising star in the Democratic party and a fundraising machine with an estimated personal net worth of $2 million, has been able to keep her home thanks to this arrangement, even though her future at the university is uncertain.
The housing status of Porter does not break any ethics regulations of the United States House of Representatives. In an online fundraising solicitation for 2020, she criticized what she called a political system that permits the wealthy and well-connected to live in one environment while the rest of us live in another. This move reeks of hypocrisy and corruption.
A countrywide housing scarcity is driving up costs for houses outside the on-campus development, and this increases demand for the university's housing program, according to data from 2021. This has resulted in a queue of more than 250 faculty and administrators.
Porter, who has built a $19.8 million campaign fund, is running for a third term in the formerly traditionally Republican district, which has become more challenging in recent years. Voters' interest in this issue will be put to the test in November.
Porter, when asked in an interview if her living situation was suitable, did not provide an answer. She insisted, however, that she complied with both state and federal law and with all applicable University of California standards.
Porter stated, I am always happy to be transparent with voters."
Smith warned that the agreement might violate an FEC rule that forbids outside parties from covering federal candidates' living costs. But, he stressed, this was a complicated and special case.
Suppose they were paying her mortgage, should we say? Smith opined, That seems like it would be an obvious issue. It's not quite the same around these parts. The only thing they are doing is letting her preserve an old contract. However, it appears to supplement her income. I'd be curious to see her reaction to the complaint if I were still on the commission.
Orange County's housing prices have consistently outpaced the rest of the country for decades. The University of California, Irvine came up with the solution of creating University Hills, an elite academic community with price caps on homes and preferential mortgage rates for individuals who are accepted to reside there.
Given that the median home price in Irvine is $1.3 million, the pent-up demand to live in University Hills is understandable. According to data from the University of California in 2021, home sales in the subdivision around the school have averaged almost 50% below their full market value in previous years. Nearby attractions, like Laguna Beach and the Pacific Ocean, are easily accessible. In addition, there are community pools, jogging paths, and beautiful views. And it's a feeder for some of the best schools in the area.
The trade-off for professors and administrators is that they must devote their lives to the university and are paid excessively to indoctrinate students; however, retirees are exempt from this rule. However, once you're no longer working at the school, an enforcement clause takes effect, which in Porter's situation would mean she has to pay off her mortgage within a matter of months.
Porter was recruited after receiving a letter from the school outlining their expectations for her participation in the housing program and offering to support her application.
In 2018, eight years after being elected, Porter stopped carrying them out.
The documents reveal that initially administrators approved two separate one-year leaves of absence that allowed her to keep her home. However, emails show that school administrators expressed growing alarm about the agreement as 2020 approached and Porter was up for reelection.
Is there a cap on how long you can take unpaid leave before it becomes unsustainable? Chris Whytock, vice dean of the law school, stated in an email sent in April 2020, One of our administrators commented that they seemed to recall a two-year limit. He continued, Of course, some government duty may endure a number of years.
Whytock, who gave $500 to Porter's 2018 campaign, drafted a memo arguing in favor of an extension of Porter's absence and implying that there is no limit to how long this may go on. According to the emails, the idea was approved by the school's vice provost in the year 2020.
The email I sent to Whytock for comment went unanswered.
Faculty on permitted leaves without pay remain UCI workers and they can maintain home in University Hills, according to a statement sent by UC Irvine spokesman Tom Vasich.
Though she hopes to be elected, Porter has stated that she would return to teaching if she were to lose. She wouldn't commit to an answer on whether or not she would relocate if she won.
Washington's veteran ethics watchdogs, even those who have a positive impression of Porter, say that her housing condition is hard to square with her crusading statements.
The preceding is a summary of an article that originally appeared on Headline USA.