Appraisers Should Closely Watch Probe of Departed Brookings Boss
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The chief of the Brookings Institution, a retired four-star general, resigned last month under investigation of lobbying on behalf of a foreign government and then covering it up. If the allegations are true, it means the think tank, under the general’s watch, was secretly taking illicit cash from at least one outside interest group at a time it was engaged in research that irreparably damaged the reputation of the nation’s real estate appraisers.
Astute appraisers wondered whether Brookings might have also been influenced by any well-placed donations from other groups, such as the powerful lobbies of the Realtors, home builders, banks and nonbank lenders, when researchers at the think tank, seemingly out of the blue, attacked the gatekeepers of mortgage lending – the nation’s real property appraisers.
Brookings’ conclusions on institutionalized bias among appraisers, later discredited by Edward Pinto and Tobias Peter of the American Enterprise Institute, were relied upon by the Interagency Task Force on Property Appraisal and Valuation Equity, or PAVE, to buttress a recent government power grab into mortgage lending. The task force was led by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge and the director of the president’s Domestic Policy Council, Susan Rice. The 116th and 117th Congress has also relied on the discredited Brookings findings to politicize mortgage lending by maligning its gatekeepers.
Pinto and Peter found that the Brookings report had reduced home values to 23 non-race variables that supposedly fully accounted for value and then made the specious assumption that the remaining value differences between white and black neighborhoods could only be due to racial bias.
“The November 2018 Brookings Institute report blames appraisers without proof or logic for lower property values in minority communities and then the June 2019 Congressional Hearing amplified the Brookings misrepresentation of the appraisal industry,” wrote Jonathan Miller, president and CEO of Miller Samuel, Inc., a New York real estate appraisal and consulting firm.
In June, the Brookings Institution announced retired Marine Gen. John R. Allen had resigned as the organization’s president in a controversy in which he is alleged to have been lobbying for the government of Qatar. The retired general and former commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan is currently under FBI investigation for allegedly trying to help Qatar navigate a diplomatic crisis and then covering up his involvement, according to a recent Federal Bureau of Investigation affidavit. It should be noted that Allen has not been charged with any crime.
The retired general began as a senior fellow with the Washington, D.C.-based think tank. In October 2017, it announced Allen’s appointment as its president. The U.S. Naval Academy graduate was on administrative leave four days before his resignation.
The FBI affidavit, inadvertently made public last week, lays out new details of a wide-scale U.S. inquiry into Qatar’s efforts to influence Washington. The docket was quickly sealed again, but the affidavit is publicly available through a nonprofit legal-research website.
A spokesman for Gen. Allen told the Wall Street Journal that the information contained in the affidavit was “factually inaccurate, incomplete, and misleading.” The spokesman said he had voluntarily cooperated with the government’s investigation and said his efforts with regard to Qatar were to protect the interests of the United States.
The Foreign Agents Registration Act requires Americans engaged in domestic political or advocacy work on behalf of foreign interests to register with the Department of Justice and disclose their relationship, activities, and related financial compensation.
Accepting cash from domestic lobbying groups would not have been in violation of the act and would not likely have been on the FBI’s radar.
“Brookings has strong policies in place to prohibit donors from directing research activities,” maintains the think tank.