Dem Overpays for Land from Future Donor

Sale price at odds with value reported in campaign finance docs

A man who sold a plot of land for double its assessed value to Democrat congressional candidate Dan McCready later made two donations to the campaign.

McCready, who turns 36 next week, is the party's nominee in a special congressional election for North Carolina's 9th District. In 2016, he purchased a parcel of land from John Leekley in Rutherford County for $1.2 million, more than double the assessed value in tax records. Although tax assessments do not always reflect market or transactional values, McCready also appears to have undervalued the property on his 2018 congressional campaign finance disclosure, an action that is now drawing scrutiny from a D.C.-based ethics watchdog.

Records from Rutherford County show a sale in 2016 of the tract of land comprised of about 524 acres from Leekley to DL Land Ventures, LLC, a limited liability company formed by McCready. The sale price was $1,214,500. Tax records from 2017 and 2018 for the plot show a "real value" assessment of $577,300. The latest property summary shows the 2019 appraised value of land at $593,300, according to a county revenue website.

The McCready campaign did not return requests for comment about the land deal.

Leekley, who owns properties in North Carolina and Michigan, has now become a political supporter of McCready, making a series of donations to the Democrats' special election campaign. He made his first $1,000 donation to McCready in December of 2018 after election irregularities emerged that would lead authorities to dismiss the Nov. 2018 tally. Leekley's second donation of $1,000 came in March of this year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

With the exception of a 2002 donation to Michigan Democrat John Dingell, Leekley has reliably been a Republican donor, giving to Paul Ryan, George W. Bush, and John McCain, among others. Efforts to reach Leekley by phone, email, and regular mail were either unsuccessful or not returned.

McCready's congressional disclosure from the 2018 race showed an asset listed under DL Land Ventures for an "investment property" which McCready then valued between $500,001 and $1,000,000, but still not as much as the 2016 sale price of $1.2 million. Kendra Arnold, executive director for the watchdog group Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, said the public is owed an explanation about the discrepancy between the sales price and the land value, in order to gauge the accuracy of his reporting.

"One important requirement of the personal financial disclosure is that our Members of Congress list their assets at the correct fair market value," Arnold said. "Without further explanation, it clearly appears Mr. McCready did not correctly value this asset."

Government property appraisals for tax assessment purposes sometimes are not as accurate as appraisals made for the purposes of making a private transaction. However, the first tax assessment value of $577,300 would have been completed about 2012, according to the county revenue website.

Therefore, the latest tax assessment value of $593,300 from the start of this year showed that the market had not suffered any precipitous drop. That last government appraisal would also have been informed by the $1.2 million sale, given that it was completed in 2016. But a completed transaction is not always directly indicative of a property's value.

The Rutherford County Assessor's site also features a disclaimer about discrepancies between sale price values and assessed value. The office said gaps can arise from family members giving land to their relatives on the cheap or from landowners who take advantage of an out-of-towner who "buys without fully investigating the market."

"The application of a schedule of values will not exactly match every sales price, however, it will insure that similar properties are assessed equitably," the disclaimer says.

McCready faces Republican state senator Dan Bishop in the special election, who avoided a run-off against any fellow Republicans after he garnered 48 percent of the vote in a 10-candidate field. The election is scheduled for September.