Since the beginning of the 2005 Jack Abramoff and Duke Cunningham investigations the Justice Department has seen a beefed up Public Integrity Unit dig into a series of scandals involving congressmen, lobbyists, and other public officials. Roll Call reports today that the Justice Department and the Federal Election Commission are pursuing a new rack of investigations into the improper use of campaign funds by a number of campaigns. Thanks to the ever growing amount of money pouring into campaigns this cycle the Justice Department and the FEC are finding embezzlement, theft, and improper payments to be at an all-time high:
In an interview with Roll Call on Monday, Mason elaborated on his statements last week, indicating that half of the agency’s 10 embezzlement cases involve candidate committees, while three involve political action committees and two are political party cases. Of the five candidate committees, he said three belong to first-time candidates. The FEC investigations more than likely involve staffers or volunteers who appear to have stolen money from the campaigns.
In the majority of cases, Mason said, campaign graft is typically reported first to local police departments. He attributed the explosion in embezzlement-related cases to the increased exposure campaigns face in billion-dollar election cycles. Fatigued volunteers with too much access, he said, often plague candidate committees, which frequently impose little oversight of their accounting records.
Two of the investigations of campaign committees stem from spending decisions made in last year’s election cycle:
Donsanto declined this week to discuss the statements he made at the legal seminar last Friday, but recent findings by the FEC — combined with increased cooperation between the elections agency and the Justice Department — suggests that federal law enforcement may be thumbing through recently completed audits of Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) and former Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.). Since the summer of 2006, FEC auditors have determined that both lawmakers used campaign money for personal expenses.
In Pombo’s case, FEC auditors found that in 2003, Annette Pombo, the lawmaker’s wife, issued checks to herself for $58,623 for salary and expense reimbursements. The report said that roughly a third of the payments “appeared … to represent the personal use of campaign funds.”
Pombo, who said Tuesday that he has not been contacted by the Justice Department, said his campaign never was able to fully account for about $11,000 of the money and had to amend campaign and tax records to show the money as unclaimed income.
“There were either insufficient receipts or no receipts,” Pombo said. “I couldn’t provide a receipt for computer equipment for the campaign or stuff like that.”
The FEC’s audit of Meeks’ campaign found that his campaign misspent more than $15,000 on health club charges and transportation reimbursements during the 2004 election cycle.
According to the agency’s audit report issued August 2006, Meeks’ campaign acknowledged “expenses totaling $7,146 were mistakenly paid for by [Meeks for Congress] and would be reimbursed by the candidate.”
The audit report of Meeks’ campaign shows that he spent $6,230 on a personal trainer, who charged $45 per hour. Meeks’ campaign told the commission “that the personal trainer was necessary to alleviate stress brought on by the candidate’s duties.”
Federal law states that candidates may not pay for “dues, fees and other payments to a health club or recreational facility” out of their campaign accounts.
The emphasis added to the above passage is there to highlight a specific statement made by Meeks’ campaign, that Meeks needed to hire a personal trainer to "alleviate stress brought on by the candidate’s duties." You’d have to be in a pretty tough campaign if you needed a personal trainer to "alleviate stress," right? Wrong. Rep. Meeks didn’t have an opponent in 2006. Rep. Meeks didn’t have a real opponent in 2004 or 2002 either. So, I’m not buying campaign induced stress as a reason to hire a personal trainer. Though this doesn’t matter because even if he was involved in a campaign at all, which he wasn’t, this would still be against the law. Oops.
If the Justice Department is starting to discuss these investigations we’re bound to find out who the other candidates are soon enough.