Good Money After Bad at the NRCC?

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.

Fossella is giving no hints about what he'll do with the money. "No decisions have been made," says Susan Del Percio, Fossella's crisis communications consultant.

Ears and Earmarks

It's a good thing Sen. Tom Coburn's staunch opposition to federal funding for the arts hasn't meant the death knell for the Kennedy Center, or the Oklahoma Republican might not have had the pleasure of seeing his daughter, Sarah Coburn, star opposite Placido Domingo this month.

Coburn, the Senate's most famous crusader against funding for home-state projects known as "earmarks," has watched two of his daughter's performances in "Tamerlano" at the Washington National Opera house. Performances end tonight.

The 30-year-old diva has quickly risen to national prominence. Peter Gelb, the general manager of the New York Metropolitan Opera, made a special trip to Washington to see her perform May 4. He sat with Domingo's wife, Marta, next to the president's box.

The Financial Times described Sarah Coburn as a "luminous soprano" who is "superbly expressive," and Opera News called her "blissfully sublime."

Though father Tom has certainly been described as expressive, he concedes that Sarah's talent and looks come from her mother, a former Miss Oklahoma.

Coburn supports elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts but said he contributes a "great deal privately." His daughter makes him CDs of operas, which Coburn says he listens to in the mornings "when nobody's around."

"I've fallen in love with opera," he said. Does he cry at the opera? "I have before," he admitted. "I also laugh a lot -- all the plots are the same: Either it's a jealous husband or an upset father."

Coburn is not playing the role of upset father in his daughter's love story. She met a nice Northern guy online and is set to marry him in New York on Sept. 1. "We're gonna have the first Yankee in our family," Coburn said.

Today's "Waxman of the Week," which honors the zealous pursuit of congressional oversight, goes to the award's namesake, House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).

Waxman showed this week that it's not just how many subpoenas you issue or how toughly you word letters to administration figures. Sometimes, it's all about how you wield the gavel.

Republicans were still steaming mad yesterday at what they called Waxman's threats to throw one of their own out of a committee hearing. The committee was questioning Stephen Johnson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, about new smog standards.

When his time was up for questioning, Waxman kept after Johnson -- to the chagrin of Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who demanded that Waxman stop. "On whose time does the chairman speak and ask these questions?" he asked, accusing Waxman of breaking the rules.

The diminutive Waxman banged the gavel six times in Issa's face, effectively quieting him.

"I will have you physically removed from this meeting if you don't stop," he said, before turning back to Johnson. "I want to know an answer to the question."

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) yesterday called Waxman's actions "outrageous threats and intimidation" and demanded an apology.

Waxman never got an answer from Johnson about White House involvement in EPA decisions, which Waxman considered the real issue. He laughed at Boehner's suggestion that he was a threatening force. "Just look at me," he said. "How can you not quake in my presence?"

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