Dean Phillips Used Secret LLC to Buy Real Estate

Pay Dirt is a weekly foray into the pigpen of political funding. Subscribe here to get it in your inbox every Thursday.

A year after taking his first congressional oath of office, Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) seemed to have found himself at home in Washington, D.C.—so much so that he appears to have made it his primary residence, according to city property records.

In December 2019, Phillips bought a $1.5 million townhome in southeast D.C.—a “show-stopper,” according to the Sotheby’s listing—purchasing the house outright and then borrowing $1.3 million against it the next month. That deed of trust, which Phillips executed on Jan. 31, 2020, carries an occupancy requirement that states the borrower “shall continue to occupy the Property as Borrower’s principal residence for at least one year after the date of occupancy.”

While residency discrepancies could give rise to voter eligibility problems, even retroactively, it’s hard to say from the available records whether Phillips—an outspoken advocate for transparency—would face any such issues. But when it comes to Phillips’ personal finances, to borrow a phrase, the opacity is the point.

The Daily Beast has examined real estate transactions, personal financial filings, and property and tax records tied to Phillips going back eight years. A multimillionaire liquor heir and investor—the force behind Talenti gelato—Phillips deals in sophisticated financial instruments and structures. It’s a life experience uncommon to all but a select group of Americans, and not exactly in lock-step with the populism that has shaped much of the current national political debate.

That thorough review has revealed, among other things, sole membership in a real estate holding company, a position which Phillips—a member of the House Ethics Committee—has never disclosed, in conflict with his own committee’s guidelines.

Phillips’ holding company owns at least three properties, two of them outside of Minnesota—the D.C. townhome, as well as a historic 37-acre farmhouse estate in Middleburg, Virginia, a semi-rural enclave of extreme wealth an hour outside the Beltway, known as “the Nation’s Horse and Hunt Capital.”

After Phillips snapped up that $2.9 million property in April 2021, his wife plunged immediately into the local dressage and polo scene, leasing a new horse days after the sale closed. The home is also the place that Phillips, a fifth-generation Minnesotan who has served his Minneapolis district for three terms, selected to stage the launch of his Democratic primary challenge against President Joe Biden. (The property was displayed in its bronze autumn prime during an exclusive CBS announcement interview with video and photo ops, as well as in Phillips’ first campaign ad video.)

Although Phillips rates low in name recognition, the three-term congressman is currently presenting himself as a viable alternative. But Phillips hails from a safe Democratic district and has never come under serious national scrutiny. His district—Minnesota’s 3rd—encompasses the western Minneapolis suburbs, and it rates as the second-wealthiest district in a state with the third-largest racial wealth gap in the country.

More consequentially, the primary challenge to Biden suggests that Phillips believes he is the best presidential candidate. Should he somehow pull off a miracle against Biden, Phillips would take on the Republican nominee—almost certainly Donald Trump—in a political moment largely defined by widespread bipartisan populist backlash against the elites. And while Trump’s supporters shamelessly embrace the billionaire celebrity with a golden telescope as one of their own, it’s unclear how Phillips would convincingly argue he is actually the man for that moment.

If such an argument exists, it won’t be found in his financial disclosures.

It’s difficult to get a full and clear understanding of Phillips’ financial picture, but real estate records provide a glimpse into his lifestyle and other personal financial choices. Despite his advocacy for accountability and reform, those records reflect an innate duality—an inescapable reality that Phillips manages a rarefied financial life, with complexities and curiosities that defy transparency and create an opacity of their own.

The Daily Beast sent the Phillips campaign a detailed comment request ahead of publication. After multiple off-the-record phone calls, the campaign did not comment.

The records also tell a larger political story about a figure who, until his recent decision to challenge Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination, has kept a relatively low profile. Among other things, the documents illustrate a shift in Phillips’ center of gravity after he ascended to Congress in 2018, downsizing in his home state while expanding in the D.C. area.

That eastward expansion includes the 2019 D.C. townhome and Middleburg estate. Both properties are owned by a holding company that Phillips did not list on his personal financial disclosures.

The records also show that Phillips—who in 2021 placed a large chunk of assets behind a blind trust after briefly being swept up in the COVID stock trading scandal—often has his mind on his money. For instance, he has repeatedly leveraged property he owns outright for quick access to large amounts of cash.

Delany Marsco, senior legal counsel for ethics at the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center, said Phillips’ wealth, and the ways he has chosen to manage it, creates its own barriers to transparency.

“This is a problem we see a lot with folks who have complex finances,” Marsco told The Daily Beast, noting that members of Congress tend to be far wealthier than most Americans. The goal of financial disclosures, she said, is to make it easier for the public to see the full picture, and what possible influences may come to bear on someone selected to make decisions that affect the whole country.

“But when you have someone this complex, then their disclosures tend to raise more questions, and that of course makes it harder for the public to get the information they have a right to, to see what’s really going on,” she said.

But Phillips has not voluntarily disclosed everything, either. In concealing some aspects of his financial life, he appears to be pushing the limits of federal ethics rules.

Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) holds a rally outside of the N.H. Statehouse after handing over his declaration of candidacy form

Photo by Gaelen Morse/Getty Images

When Phillips bought the D.C. townhome, he didn’t do so under his own name. Instead, like many public figures seeking a privacy buffer, he used a limited liability company, called “Annadea LLC.”

Annadea LLC—a portmanteau of Phillips’ first name and that of his second and current wife, Annalise—was created in Minnesota in September 2019, a few months before Phillips purchased the townhome. State business records list Phillips as the LLC’s manager and sole member, and he has signed for Annadea in real estate transactions as the company’s “sole member,” but his financial disclosures don’t report those positions, nor the existence of the company.

“The failure to disclose membership in an LLC could raise some red flags,” Marsco said. Although disclosure of positions in outside groups is “typically required,” Marsco said, she was quick to add that ethics rules make it difficult to say whether Phillips crossed any lines.

According to the House Ethics Committee’s 2023 disclosure guidelines, members “must report… any non-federal positions (whether or not compensated) you held with organizations.” Qualifying entities include LLCs, the guidance says, singling out “member” and “manager” roles in LLCs as typically reportable positions.

However, as Marsco observed, the spirit of this rule lies in the entity’s underlying activity and assets. Annadea LLC’s known assets—at least three properties, each bought for between $1.5 million and $2.9 million—are all personal residential real estate. And since they don’t generate any known rental income, those assets, and Annadea LLC itself as an asset, are exempt from disclosure. Positions, however, are reported separately, and aren’t explicitly subject to the same underlying rules.

“If I were him, I’d ask the Ethics Committee,” Marsco said. “It doesn’t look like he’s trying to hide outside positions, so there’s potentially something else animating that decision, like privacy concerns.”

Of course, Phillips sits on that committee—and sometimes not too happily. While serving on House Ethics for the last four years, Phillips has heavily promoted financial and government reforms, and has publicly called to hold officials accountable “to the highest standards of ethics.”

But Phillips—like many D.C. observers—is also a critic of that same institution. He questioned the utility of the famously sclerotic committee in a Daily Beast op-ed this year, noting that it lacked the “resources or structure to deliver the expeditious accountability Congress needs.” And Phillips would know as well as anyone that even if he made a misstep on his disclosures, little, if anything, would come of it from the committee that an ethics advocate once described as a “black hole where allegations go to die.”

Ethics concerns aside, Annadea LLC provides a window into Phillips’ financial and political life.

Two of Annadea’s three known holdings are not in Minnesota, but on the East Coast. The first of those purchases—the $1.5 million D.C. townhome—came less than a year after Phillips was first sworn in to Congress. A month later, he took out that $1.3 million loan, with the occupancy requirement.

That requirement had carve-outs for a side agreement and special circumstances beyond Phillips’ control, but it would have covered Phillips’ re-election bid that year. While Phillips is currently registered to vote in Minnesota, state records don’t provide historical data. Such terms are fairly common for residential loans, and it’s unclear how much weight this fact by itself would carry under Minnesota law—though Phillips did agree to the terms in order to access the $1.3 million. (Congressional candidates have drawn scrutiny for similar fact patterns.)

Since around the time of his election in 2018, Phillips has purchased two out-of-state properties and sold two Minnesota homes. He currently appears to own one home in the state, but he does not claim a homestead exemption there, tax records show. In fact, none of his current properties appear to carry a homestead exemption—a designation of primary residence that carries a handsome tax break—though his rural Virginia estate qualified for an agricultural tax break this summer, according to county records.

Phillips sold one of his Minneapolis homes a few months after taking office, in June 2019. The buyer—Mark Tritton, then CEO of Bed Bath & Beyond—paid about $1.4 million, a little more than Phillips paid for it in 2013. He scooped up the D.C. property six months later.

Since 2018, Phillips has also taken out at least three seven-figure mortgages on properties that he already owned outright. Two of them were for his longtime former home in Wayzata, Minnesota, and those mortgages overlapped. The first, a $3.8 million loan, was taken out a month before Phillips was first elected. The amount appears to match the remaining balance on a line of credit Phillips had on that same home, which he paid down that year, according to his financial disclosures.

Before satisfying that mortgage, Phillips took out a second mortgage—a $3.66 million loan on the same home in May 2021—one month after he bought the Virginia estate. But property records show that Phillips repaid that second mortgage within weeks, eating the $9,000 filing fee.

Five months later, Phillips sold the home—an award-winning, brutally modernist block structure on Lake Minnetonka that he commissioned in 2012—for $10.5 million, three times what he originally paid for the property, and more than double its market value at the time. The sale made news.

Phillips had made that home a feature of his first congressional campaign. A 2018 MinnPost article—headlined, “Most politicians try to be everyone’s friend. But Dean Phillips is trying very, very hard”—reported that Phillips had a campaign boat on the lake.

“Indeed, Phillips’ goal is nothing short of repairing government: he tools around the district in a converted, 1960s-era milk truck he calls the ‘Government Repair Truck,’” the report said, adding that the candidate “also ferried a ‘Government Repair Pontoon’ around the Lake Minnetonka enclave of Deephaven he calls home.”

Phillips sold that property to the founder of Castlelake, a Minneapolis wealth management firm overseeing $20 billion in assets, Hennepin County records show. (Phillips and the buyer both support a local nonprofit that provides apartments to unhoused women dealing with mental illness and addiction.)

After completing that sale, Phillips—again under Annadea LLC—bought a more modest property in the area for $2.35 million.

All of Phillips’ loans carried the same one-year principal residence requirement, though the timelines don’t appear to conflict. It’s unclear why he took out the second mortgage only to repay it weeks later. But the next month, Phillips finished the yearslong long process of porting a large share of his assets over to a blind trust.

Marsco, of Campaign Legal Center, said that process might explain a need for cash.

“Blind trusts are typically expensive to set up, and when you have to sell down those assets, there could be something to finding liquidity to compensate for that, to have some cash safety,” she said. (Phillips, however, immediately paid the loan back.)

Today, Phillips spends a great deal of his time at the historic Virginia farmhouse estate he bought in 2021 under Annadea LLC.

The agent described the estate as a “purist delight,” according to county real estate records, noting, “museum quality” detail work. The original log structure was built in 1790 in Connecticut, then moved to its current location around 1830. The home features four bedrooms, four baths, and two half-baths—along with a detached garage and “historic stone bank barn and log shed.” Days after they bought the house, Phillips’ wife leased a horse, according to social media posts at the time, and the couple have since been active members of the local riding community, participating in dressage and polo events.

But it’s still unclear where Dean Phillips calls home—at least in official financial statements.

While Phillips’ recent peripatetic history might not play well in his district, he expanded his target audience immensely when he announced his candidacy last month. That 2018 MinnPost report showed him arguing that his GOP opponent was out of touch and “does not represent this centrist district,” and that his “quotes do not match the votes.”

But the report also foreshadowed the challenges Phillips faces today, as both a potential primary wrecking ball for Biden—and as a candidate on the larger national stage.

At the time, Phillips cast himself as a unifying candidate, someone who could bridge the seemingly infinite partisan gap that has defined the post-Trump era. But his announcement last month created new rifts to mend—and these are with former allies within his own party who fear his primary campaign will only serve to damage Biden at a critical inflection point for American democracy.

“My epiphany is there’s a lot more that unites us than divides us,” Phillips told the outlet at the time. “It sounds cliche, but I’ve come to discover that’s what Trump supporters, Republicans, libertarians, and independents and Democrats, if we focus on outcomes, most of us agree.”

Rick Schindler

Rick Schindler is a Worldtimetodays U.S. News Reporter based in Canada. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Rick Schindler joined Worldtimetodays in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

Related Articles

Back to top button