NRCC Treasurer Under Scrutiny Was Thought of as 'Gold Standard'
Thursday, March 13, 2008
In the tiny world of people who keep the books for Washington's multitude of political committees, Christopher J. Ward was considered the Republican "gold standard," in the words of a former co-worker -- one of the few people with so much expertise in election law that everyone wanted Ward's services.
The quiet workaholic is listed as treasurer for 83 GOP fundraising committees over the past eight years, according to Federal Election Commission records. In the past five years alone, he oversaw the accounting for committees that raised more than $400 million, $368 million of it at the National Republican Congressional Committee, according to a Washington Post review of those records.
But in late January, Ward, 39, was dismissed as the NRCC announced that it had found financial "irregularities" that "may include fraud." The FBI is investigating what appears to be "a significant amount of money" missing from the House Republican fundraising arm, according to a law enforcement official.
Now the dozens of GOP lawmakers who had clamored for Ward's help are apprehensively poring over his work along with FBI investigators, trying to learn more about the finances he oversaw. Several lawmakers have told Rep. K. Michael Conaway (Tex.), head of the NRCC's auditing subcommittee, that they think money may be missing from their political committees, as well.
Officials told The Post that the NRCC's problems may be more extensive. 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.
Concerned that they could be investigated for possible violations of bank fraud laws, NRCC officials quickly called in the FBI, according to lawmakers and officials with knowledge of the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Wachovia spokeswoman Carrie Ruddy declined to comment. An official at the Federal Election Commission, which could fine the committee if it misstated the NRCC's financial position in monthly reports, also declined to comment.
What may set this investigation apart from previous confirmed cases of political embezzlement is the sheer number of clients Ward served. Drawing on at least 15 years of experience in the complexities of campaign finance laws, he built a reservoir of trust among House Republicans.
"We were told he was the guy that handled all the campaign committees, he was the best," said Rep. Peter T. King (N.Y.).
But King 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.
Ronald Machen, Ward's attorney, declined to comment for this article. Officials for the NRCC and the FBI also would not discuss the investigation.
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