Thursday, March 13, 2008

Washington Post reports on fraud at the National Republican Congressional Committee

The Washington Post provides background for the earlier report that the Financial Director of the NRCC, Christopher Ward, has apparently been embezzling money form the committee and perhaps from the campaign committees of many of the Republican Congressmen whose political fund raising committees he was director of. Some interesting vignettes:
  • In the last eight years, Ward is listed as treasurer for 83 GOP fundraising committees.
  • He has supervised committees that raised over "..$400 million, $368 million of it at the National Republican Congressional Committee."
  • "Republican lawmakers and former committee staff members now allege that Ward fabricated audits and other financial documents for 2003 to 2006, some of which were turned over to a Wachovia Bank branch in McLean in October 2006, when the NRCC borrowed $8 million in last-minute money for congressional campaigns."
  • "Rep. Peter T. King (N.Y.) ... said in an interview that he has discovered that Ward paid himself $6,000 in consulting fees from King's political action committee in 2007 -- though King believed that he had shuttered the committee early last year. Upon learning of the NRCC investigation, King said he found that his PAC remained open all of last year. Ward paid himself the fees from King's PAC, which received just three contributions and dispensed one check in 2007, FEC records show."
  • li>The financial problems at the cash-strapped NRCC led "...retiring Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (Va.), who chaired the NRCC for four years earlier this decade" to say "The House Republican brand is so bad right now that if it were a dog food, they'd take it off the shelf."
  • "In 2005, 2006 and most of 2007, the NRCC paid Ward $80,000 to $90,000 a year, but he was one of only two full-time aides there who were allowed to work as outside consultants to lawmakers. That doubled his salary, according to a review of records compiled by CQ MoneyLine, a Web site that tracks campaign finances.

    In 2007, for example, Ward's consulting firm collected $100,000 from the 19 PACs and committees for which he served as treasurer. Last October, Ward left the NRCC as treasurer but remained on the payroll as a $7,500-a-month consultant."
  • "Any material misstatement on a bank application is a federal crime," said Stanley Brand, a Washington defense lawyer. He said the committee probably contacted the FBI in an attempt to portray itself as the victim of a crime -- punishable by as much as $1 million in fines and 30 years in prison -- and to inoculate NRCC officials from prosecution.

    "They blew the whistle on themselves, which is what you'd do to protect yourself," he said.
The discovery of the fraud is one any Auditor will recognize as a classic. The fraud worked as long as the crook was in position to control all the records. Ward's reputation as a workaholic is also classic. An individual conducting a fraud cannot afford to let anyone else work on the books they are stealing from, so they do all the work themselves, rarely taking any time away from the job. Fraud requires a lot of overtime. Here is how the fraud surfaced:
The first inkling of trouble came when Conaway took over the NRCC's auditing subcommittee in early 2007. A certified public accountant himself, Conaway said in interviews that he asked for something considered routine in the corporate world: an audit of NRCC books for the previous year by an outside firm and a meeting with the auditors.

"My expectation was that that frank meeting would take three minutes," Conaway said.

Instead, Ward kept putting him off, he said. "Okay, we'll get it for the next meeting, we'll get it for you," Ward said, according to Conaway, who became suspicious of what he described as Ward's "passive aggressive" behavior.

He said Ward avoided the issue for months, until January, when Ward told Conaway that he and GOP lawmakers would meet with auditors. But Ward canceled the meeting 30 minutes before it was scheduled to begin.

Republicans called the outside firm and found out that no audits had been done since 2003. After looking at the documents Ward had given them for each year, they determined that he had fabricated them, according to Davis and other officials with knowledge of the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
This is why auditors want everyone working with accounting records to take a vacation of at least two weeks a year, so that someone else goes through the books while they are gone. Rep Conway, as a CPA himself, did what should always be done when someone new takes over supervision of the books. He asked to see the audit records and speak to the auditors who conducted oversight of the records. That's how fraud is either prevented or discovered.

So how did Christopher J. Ward become an embezzler? There are some clues in his career, but no obvious answers from current reports. He got his Political Science degree in 1990 and immediately began work in Republican politics, moving to the NRCC in the middle 90's shortly after the Gingrich-inspired take-over of the House of Representatives. He was good at his job. Ward was the guy that Republican Congressmen in trouble were steered to in order to help them get out of the trouble, an example being recently indicted Arizona Congressman Rick Renzi.

The cultural environment Ward worked in cannot be ignored. Ward's time at the NRCC went along with the Abramoff scandal, the Duke Cunningham scandal and the Bob Ney scandal, just to name the ones presently in prison. In a culture in which Republicans who believed they should each have the right to collect as much money as they could get their hands on flourished, and Ward was a key enabler of many of those who moved closest to being caught, he certainly must have felt that his expertise and efforts deserved as much financial reward as he could collect. It should be no surprise that his career bloomed as the Republican controlled Congress, and his fraud was discovered after the Republicans were removed from control of Congress.

It would be hard to overlook the moral lesson about Republican control of government in this fraud, but I'm sure the Republicans will be working hard to both obfuscate and overlook the lesson. Unfortunately, their opponents, the Democrats will be too polite to bring it up.

Christopher J. Ward has added his name to those representative of the control of the federal government by movement conservatives. Others in the pantheon include (in no particular order) Randy "Duke" Cunningham, Bob Ney, Mark Foley, Steven Biskupic,
Tom DeLay, Rachel Paulose, Alberto Gonzalez, "Scooter" Libby, John Doolittle, Jack Abramoff and many, many more.

The reporting on this story by Washington Post Staff Writer Paul Kane is excellent, and he should be congratulated for it.

No comments: