Good Money After Bad at the NRCC?

Senatorial daughter -- and real live diva -- Sarah Coburn.
Senatorial daughter -- and real live diva -- Sarah Coburn. (Photo By Stacy Boge - Photo By Stacy Boge)
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By Mary Ann Akers And Paul Kane
Thursday, May 22, 2008

As if the spring hasn't been tough enough on House Republicans, there is also the issue of bills piling up from the investigations into the alleged embezzlement scheme at the National Republican Congressional Committee.

New reports filed with the Federal Election Commission show that the NRCC spent more than $210,000 on legal and accounting bills in April. Those payouts, to the law firm Covington & Burling and the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, bring the total amount spent by the committee to $355,000 since party officials in January accused their former treasurer of cooking the NRCC's books for several years.

The cash-strapped NRCC is paying the legal-and-accounting team to scour a decade of financial records to determine how much money was allegedly diverted by Christopher J. Ward, the NRCC's former treasurer. He is under FBI investigation for possible embezzlement and bank fraud.

The $355,000 in legal and accounting fees is almost as much as the NRCC spent earlier this month in a Louisiana special election, where $436,000 went toward campaign ads in attacking Don Cazayoux (D-La.), who won anyway.

There's no telling what the final tab will be. In mid-March, when NRCC officials revealed that several hundred thousand dollars to $1 million was missing, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) told reporters that the internal audit already had cost about $370,000. The NRCC could be on its way to paying as much to its lawyers and accountants as was taken from the committee.

Karen Hanretty, NRCC spokeswoman, said the final audit is "near completion" but has been delayed by difficulties obtaining some old financial records.

The Vito-Dollars

Now that scandal-plagued Rep. Vito Fossella (R-N.Y.) has decided to retire, we wonder what he'll do with all the money sitting in his campaign coffers. His Republicans colleagues wonder, too.

He has several options, including donating it to his struggling GOP brethren, who are buckled in for what promises to be a very rough ride in this November's congressional elections. Of course, he also could keep the money to pay legal expenses, if the House ethics committee approves it.

As of March 31, Fossella's campaign had $248,496 in cash on hand, thanks to the generosity of several GOP members who had donated money to Fossella's reelection effort before his May 1 arrest on drunken-driving charges. That quickly ballooned into an infidelity scandal and questions of whether he romanced his previously secret mistress (and mother of his previously secret child) on the taxpayers' dime.

Fossella was considered vulnerable even before the scandal. He was placed on the House Republicans' Regain Our Majority Program (ROMP) list. And lots of prominent Republicans helped Fossella, including House GOP Chief Deputy Whip Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), whose leadership PAC gave $5,000 to Fossella's campaign, and Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.), whose leadership PAC gave $1,000.

But now, with GOP money problems and the looming threat of a Democratic tidal wave, the NRCC would love Fossella to show a little reciprocity in the goodwill department. They'd like Fossella's campaign money, or at least a good chunk of it, to help their candidates.

"Considering that Vito Fossella has helped this committee's efforts in past election cycles, and given that New York's 13th District will now be an open seat, we hope he will aid efforts to keep this seat in the red column," said NRCC spokeswoman Julie Shutley.

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