Friday, May 20, 2005

Tip of the Audit

Yesterday, Meghan blogged about Phil Shenon's New York Times piece on an audit of DeLay's leadership PAC, ARMPAC. When I saw the story my immediate reaction that DeLay and his handlers released the story early to take the sting out of the real news. The spin they put on it was that it involved the committee was "cleared" -- in fact that's the headline the Times put on the story. Lawyers for DeLay spun out a line that the audit involved a small amount of money, that it was a routine audit, and that they were cooperating fully with the Federal Election Commission.

Pardon me for my skepticism.

But clearly the lawyers for DeLay know much much more than what they were willing to say yesterday. Today's Washington Post gives more details, after the newspaper compared old filings with the updated ones submitted recently by ARMPAC. It's a good piece of reporting by Jeffrey Smith and Derek Willis.

Here are some findings of the Post's analysis that DeLay and his lawyers don't want people to know:

1. ARMPAC's revised filings omit $15,523 in contributions previously reported. (Psst, Post: From whom? And why? And did this money go to ARMPAC's soft money committee? Or to TRMPAC?)

2. ARMPAC's revised filings add $51,755 in expenditures not previously reported. (Psst, Post: For what?)

3. ARMPAC is carrying debt -- $5,732.90 to be exact -- for a Puerto Rico fundraiser in 2002. (Psst, DeLay beat reporters or other enterprising researchers: Let's know more about that fundraiser DeLay and company failed to disclose.) An unpaid debt at some point has to be classified as a donation, right? And if this outstanding bill is from a corporation, then it can't be made to DeLay's hard money operation. In 2002, DeLay's ARMPAC also had a soft money committee (more on that in a minute). But that committee doesn't exist anymore.

But here's the big ticket item, and one in which additional attention is needed:

The revised filings also for the first time list a debt of $121,456 from ARMPAC's regulated campaign account to a separate ARMPAC account that took in unregulated donations in those years.

Jan Baran, a Republican lawyer who specializes in campaign law, said the listing of this debt evidently means that ARMPAC improperly used unregulated campaign contributions to finance certain expenses during those years and now must pay that sum back to comply with the rules.

Unregulated contributions are typically those donated directly by corporations, unions or other wealthy donors, often in excess of the limits imposed on contributions to regulated funds. The use of unregulated contributions by federal lawmakers was prohibited by a campaign finance law enacted in late 2002, forcing ARMPAC and similar committees to disband them.

That circumstance adds a wrinkle to the issue of how ARMPAC can now redress its mistake. Essentially, its debt is to an entity that no longer exists.

Baran says he could not assess whether any of the revisions made by ARMPAC represent serious mistakes until the FEC releases a final audit report and he sees whether the errors have attracted the interest of its office of general counsel, which can bring legal action and assess financial penalties.

One final item that has my mind racing this morning:

ARMPAC's executive director is none other than the indicted Jim Ellis, who in 2002, the period covered by this audit, was deeply involved in another of DeLay's political activities -- raising corporate money for Texans for a Republican Majority PAC for state races in Texas.

Do any of these possible violations or revised filings or debt, etc. involve Ellis and TRMPAC? Inquiring minds want to know.

Maybe Smith and Willis, or Shenon and his team of researchers can look deeper on this one. Or, maybe there's a District Attorney down in Travis County who is reading the Post story and asking himself the same question.

UPDATE: Another question pops to mind: Have there been any audits or revised fiilings in Texas for TRMPAC? Hmmm.


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