GOP's Ashley Kalus explains a tax break in one state, a voter registration in another

In February 2017, a Florida weekly ran a feature story about the plastic surgeon married to Rhode Island's current GOP candidate for governor, Ashley Kalus.

Explaining how they landed in Florida, it said: "Dr. Jeffrey Weinzweig and his wife, Ashley, spent a weekend in the Keys and that was enough to move their family of three young boys to Key West."

That five-year-old article — in the Upper Keys Weekly — has come back to haunt Kalus  amid questions about a tax break reserved for residents that she and her husband enjoyed for most of the last decade on their house in Illinois, even when they were both registered to vote in Florida.

They were both still registered to vote in Florida when Kalus launched her GOP bid for governor of Rhode Island.

"Ashley Kalus has to answer this simple question: did she commit property tax fraud or did she commit voter fraud?" says Gov. Dan McKee's campaign manager, Brexton Isaacs.

She says: neither.

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Ashley Kalus
Ashley Kalus

"The puzzle piece you're missing is the fact that Jeff and Ashley lived apart at times while running their multi-state businesses," Kalus campaign spokesman Matt Hanrahan said Sunday.

"This would be a non-story if Ashley were a man," he added. "This is a continued misogynistic character assassination by Dan McKee’s campaign... When a dad travels to provide for his family — it's applauded — when a mom travels for work — it's scandalous."

What do we know about their circumstances?

The Weinzweigs – Ashley and Jeffrey – purchased their stately 1860s home on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan in Highland Park, Ill. in 2012.

From that point on, they were given a "homestead exemption," as first reported by WPRI.

Translated into dollars and cents: the annual property tax bill for their 5,693-square-foot home was reduced by $515.40 to $32,460.78 as recently as 2021, Lake County tax officials told The Journal.

According to the Illinois Department of Revenue: "This annual exemption is available for residential property that is occupied by its owner or owners as his or their principal dwelling place."

Meanwhile, Kalus became a registered Florida voter

She registered to vote in Florida in August 2019, voted there in November 2020, and did not terminate her Florida voter registration until March 23 of this year, on the day after she announced her candidacy for Rhode Island governor.

Her husband registered to vote in Florida in October 2020. He terminated his Florida voter registration on April 27, 2022, according to Monroe County officials.

"When Ashley moved [to Rhode Island], she sent a letter requesting to be removed from the rolls. In March of ‘22, she noticed she had not been, and followed up. At that point, she was officially removed from the rolls," Hanrahan told The Journal on Friday.

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The RI chapter began in May 2021.

That was the month the Weinzweigs – Jeffrey and Ashley – bought a modest ranch house – with 1,775-square-feet of above-ground living space – in the 5th Ward of Newport for $770,000.

She declared the Narragansett Avenue house as her home address when she registered to vote in Rhode Island, for the first time, on Jan. 18 of this year, at a point she was still registered to vote in Florida.

The house was to be a home base while she was managing state COVID vaccination and testing contracts, under the auspices of Doctors Test Centers, an Illinois-based company created by her husband. The contract did not end well.

On her financial-disclosure filing with the R.I. Ethics Commission, she also described the Newport house as the business address for Sirena Cottage Key LLC.

From one state to another

Over the last several days, Kalus' campaign provided answers to a number of questions posed by The Journal, but not all.

As a starting point, her campaign provided this explanation for Dr. Weinzweig's moves between Illinois, Florida and ultimately, Rhode Island:

"At the height of the pandemic Ashley’s husband, Jeff, a medical doctor, remained in Illinois to care for his patients until his operating rooms were forced to close due to COVID restrictions.

"At that point, he joined Ashley in Florida, where she was running testing clinics, and he registered to vote. However, Illinois reopened operating rooms, and Jeff returned to Illinois to run his practice because there was backlog and his staff, fellow surgeons, couldn’t keep up without him there.

"As health care professionals, Ashley and Jeff made sacrifices like countless other providers to help save lives — which included spending time apart."

As to why she moved to Florida and registered to vote there pre-pandemic, her campaign said:

"Ashley registered in FL in 2019 because she was dealing with long-term issues related to her house being directly hit by Hurricane Irma." 

On the Illinois tax break, the campaign said: "Illinois only requires one person to maintain full-time residency to qualify for a homestead exemption — and Jeff satisfied that requirement."

"Jeff now lives full-time in Newport."

Asking questions

Hanrahan, Kalus' campaign spokesman, provided other answers in an exchange with The Journal:

Question:  Was their home in Highland Park, Ill. – which sold earlier this month for $1.35 million – her principal residence in 2021, when she and her husband last got the homestead exemption?

Answer: "No, Ashley's principal residence was in Rhode Island in 2021...Illinois law only requires one individual to claim permanent residency to qualify for the homestead exemption, and Jeff was still living there full time treating his patients."

As for the tax break: "The exemption was a whopping $515.40 off their $32,460.78 yearly property tax bill."

Question: Has Dr. Weinzweig now moved to Rhode Island full-time?

Answer: "Yes... [in] Newport with Ashley... Right now, Jeff is not operating in Rhode Island – though he is licensed to do so. Primarily, he is assisting with the three boys."

"Jeff is also looking to resume his mission trips with Komedyplast, their nonprofit organization that treats children in Peru that are born with craniofacial anomalies. He is also currently writing his 7th medical textbook. 

"The Chicago practice and the building are currently for sale. Ashley and Jeff returned to Rhode Island and have no intentions of ever leaving." 

Question: Was Florida their place of residence for tax purposes in 2020 or 2021?

Answer: "No."

Question: How do they reconcile the 2017 article in the Upper Keys Weekly saying the family had, by then, already moved to Florida with their homestead exemption in Illinois?

Answer: "When the Keys business opened and they 'moved,' the family was still transitioning out of day-to-day operations and life in Illinois. Unfortunately, the family never fully made it down to Florida before the hurricane. Jeff has always been a resident of Illinois until moving here to Rhode Island."

Question: What business?

Answer: The business was JW Plastic Surgery, and it opened in 2015. Once that business was off the ground, Jeff had hoped to operate primarily out of that office, rather the JW Plastic Surgery in Chicago...[The plan] never fully came to fruition because of the hurricane."

Question: The house on Narragansett Avenue in Newport is listed on Ashley's ethics filing as the business address of Sirena Key Cottage LLC. What is "Sirena Key Cottage"?

Answer: "Sirena Key Cottage LLC is the property listed on Ashley’s ethics form at 701 Spanish Main Drive, Unit 365, Cudjoe Key, FL ... It has from time to time been used as a rental property."

"The Newport address is listed as the business address for mailing purposes."

Question: Florida corporation records list Kalus as the president of the Sirena Credit Company as recently as Jan. 31, 2022. The company helped arrange financing for plastic surgery.

Why is the company not mentioned on Kalus' ethics disclosure for 2021?

Answer: "Ashley is no longer affiliated with the company."

This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: RI candidate for gov. explains tax break in IL voter registration in FL