GOP Campaign Arm Missing Cash
Friday, March 7, 2008
Authorities investigating possible fraud by a longtime GOP operative have determined that the House Republican campaign committee has lost a substantial sum of money, and several GOP lawmakers believe funds were pilfered from their campaign accounts as well, law enforcement and Capitol Hill sources said yesterday.
The National Republican Congressional Committee, the House Republicans' campaign arm, lost a "significant amount of money," said a law enforcement official who also confirmed that the FBI has begun investigating the committee's longtime treasurer, Christopher J. Ward.
An official close to the NRCC said preliminary reviews of its bank statements and reports to the Federal Election Commission demonstrate clear discrepancies between "what [money] we have and what we should have."
"We don't know if it's a big number or a small number," the official said. "It looks like something was stolen. But we don't have an accurate number. We don't know."
Ward has served as treasurer for dozens of other campaigns and political action committees during a lengthy career as a political operative. He was fired in late January after the committee discovered that no independent audits of the organization's books had been performed since 2003.
The committee announced that it had asked the FBI to investigate and, in a statement, said the "irregularities" uncovered after its own audit "may include fraud."
Ronald C. Machen, an attorney for Ward, did not return a telephone call or respond to an e-mail seeking comment yesterday evening.
Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Tex.), head of the NRCC's auditing subcommittee, said yesterday that he has spoken with several lawmakers who said their political committees were victimized as well. He declined to name those lawmakers but said they are conducting similarly intensive financial reviews to determine how much money might be missing.
Yesterday, NRCC aides declined to comment on the status of the FBI investigation or whether Republicans had determined if money was inappropriately diverted out of campaign accounts.
Covington & Burling, the outside law firm hired by the NRCC to conduct its investigation, has brought on the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers to determine precisely how the situation unfolded.
Lawmakers and aides have said the committee's investigation revolves around Ward, who worked for the committee for several years and was treasurer from 2003 until September 2007. He subsequently worked for the committee as a contractor and was paid through his own firm, C.J. Ward & Co.
Conaway, a certified public accountant, said he had demanded that Ward set up a meeting with a team of outside auditors who, Ward had told officials, had been reviewing NRCC books . On the day of the meeting was scheduled, Conaway said, the committee learned that no such auditing team had existed since 2003, the year that Ward was named treasurer.