By Sandy Fitzgerald
The wife of Democratic Michigan Rep. John Conyers is finally disclosing her debt of up to $50,000 owed to posh retailer Neiman Marcus on financial statements he must submit, by law, to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Former Detroit City Council President Monica Conyers in July refused to disclose some of her growing debts, reports The Detroit News, with her husband telling the U.S. House Committee on Ethics that she did "not believe such information needs to be disclosed."
But in a new filing dated Jan. 31, Conyers told the House clerk he was amending his disclosure form to include his wife's Neiman Marcus debt.
The 84-year-old Detroit congressman had already reported his wife's shopping debt in the past, saying in 2012 that she owed between $15,001 and $50,000 in a revolving charge account with the retailer.
However, Conyers is still not reporting all his wife's debts. In the past, he reported that Monica Conyers, now 49, owed as much as $100,000 in student loan debt from the 1990s. He married her in 1990.
"It looks like Congressman Conyers needs to do a thorough review of the House rules to determine what he needs to disclose," said Mary Boyle, vice president of communications at Common Cause, a public accountability advocacy group. "The standard is not what his wife thinks needs to be disclosed, it’s what the rules require."
Conyers has been trying to distance himself from his wife's issues, The Detroit News reports. The former one-term councilwoman served a 37-month sentence in the "Camp Cupcake" federal women's prison in Alderson, W. Va. following her guilty plea to conspiracy in a $47 million sludge hauling deal.
She finished out her final five months of the sentence in home confinement last May, and will remain on probation until next year.
The lawmaker and his wife have only appeared in public together once since she was released from prison, when they attended a celebration several political colleagues, civil rights leaders, and constituents held in September for Conyers' 50 years of public service.
Jock Friedly, founder of LegiStorm, which publishes congressional disclosures, said it is not usual for a spouse to refuse to cooperate with legal requirements.
"There is no option not to disclosure what is legally required and this appears to be something that he should have disclosed,” he said of Monica Conyers' Neiman Marcus debt.
However, the House Ethics Committee may sympathize with a lawmaker if that persons' marriage is too strained to get the proper information from a spouse, said Friedly.
"I really don’t think the Ethics Committee wants to be diving into the marriages of members of Congress,” Friedly said, and it's the lawmaker, not the spouse, who bears the responsibility for financial reporting.
"If (Monica) tells them to go jump off a pier into a lake, they can’t do much about that," he said.
In the initial disclosure, Conyers said that he had not been able to obtain information about possible liabilities from his wife, as she did not believe the information needed to be disclosed.
Conyers also had to amend his 2011 financial disclosure form after learning his wife had turned over ownership of a Detroit investment property she owns to her mother.
The Michigan lawmaker has served in Congress since 1965, and is the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee and a founding member and dean of the Congressional Black Caucus.
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