The New Haven Register has an investigative piece into Joe Lieberman's $387,000 in unaccounted petty cash disbursements from the last days of the August primary (h/t DeanFan84). The article raises serious questions about what this money went for, as well as what itemized disbursements for consultants who claim to have never received them mean. Not surprisingly, the Lieberman campaign has declined to answer these questions.
The Register article raises three serious potential violations of campaign finance laws. The one that most interests me is the possibility that the Lieberman campaign laundered money through their field consultants to convert it to street money.
Also, [Tom] Reyes and another man, Daryl Brooks of New Haven, who ran a consultant service, said they each got one check from the campaign for their services, but they are listed in the third quarter campaign finance report as getting two checks, for a total of twice what the men said they received.
The report lists Reyes as getting two checks for $8,250, one on Aug. 4 and one on Aug. 15. Brooks received $12,200 on Aug. 11 and another check for the same amount on Aug. 15, according to the Lieberman report. Both men said this was inaccurate.
Paying for services not delivered is a hallmark of street money. By writing checks that ostensibly look like they belong, campaigns can give their operatives cash to put on the street around election. Both of these men are saying they only received one check and their bank balances may well reflect that, but it I find it hard to believe that the Lieberman campaign's accountants accidentally cut an extra $20,450 in checks or accidentally added that much money to their records.
No, I think the most probable answer is Alan Schlesinger's hypothesis, that the Lieberman campaign was putting huge sums of cash into play as street money. Schlesinger was talking specifically about Joe's petty cash slush fund, but as I explained earlier this week, street money can be deployed in more ways than just giving cash to bad people to buy votes.
Lastly, street money is used to pay influential community members for services never provided. These people can then funnel the money into vote buying or using their connections to pull in more voters for the candidate who's throwing cash around.
Substitute campaign consultants for influential community members and the extra checks to Reyes and Brooks make sense. This money could well have been used as street money and it's coming from sources that we hadn't considered as legitimate possibilities before the Register article.
There are two other salient pieces of information in the Register article, though they apply more towards the Lieberman campaign's failures to keep proper clerical records of their expenditures than something necessarily as sinister as street money. That is not to say that these are not serious violations of campaign finance law that do real damage to the spirit of transparency that good government groups like Public Campaign Action Fund and Common Cause have fought for.
Several young men, who were paid $60 a day out of petty cash to canvass in Bridgeport, said they were paid in cash for aggregate earnings over $200.
Rob Dhanda, 18, or Stratford, said he earned $480 in cash over several weeks, while Walter Ruilova, 18, also of Stratford, said his total was an estimated $360 in cash. Ruilova estimated there were about 30 teenagers working out of the Bridgeport office, each earning $60 a day in cash, over a few weeks.
Michelle Ryan, a spokeswoman for the FEC, would not comment on specifics of the Lamont complaint, but said "in terms of itemization, it is required once the aggregate total to a recipient is in excess of $200."
The Lieberman campaign essentially paid campaign workers off the books. The article doesn't find people who were necessarily paid more than $100 in petty cash (which would be illegal), but these are all individuals who received over $200 and thus should be itemized on Lieberman's reports. Failure to provide full information about these people, including their names and addresses, is an avoidance of the law. At minimum this information continues to fill out our understanding of the extent to which the Lieberman campaign stopped obeying campaign finance requirements and regulations during the Democratic primary.
The Register also includes information that will surely bolster the Lamont campaign's formal complaint to the FEC about the Lieberman petty cash slush fund. Specifically, the Lamont campaign contended that Lieberman failed to keep adequate records in their petty cash journal as to what their disbursements paid for.
At least one man who was hired as a consultant, Tomas Reyes of Oxford, said he has yet to be asked by the campaign to turn over material for the journal, which would justify expenditures of $8,250.
The FEC requires the treasurer of the political committee to keep a written journal of all disbursements out of petty cash, including names, addresses, dates and purposes.
I'm not sure if Mary O'Leary, the NH Register reporter, is entirely clear in this passage as to whether or not Reyes $8,250 was a petty cash expenditure, which would require a record in the journal, or a reimbursable expense for his 8/4/06 check for "field consulting." It strikes me as odd for Reyes to claim that he had receipts for field consulting, a service he provided for the campaign. In any event, it is clear that Lieberman's books are not up to date and accurate, which is a violation of campaign finance laws.
O'Leary gave the Lieberman campaign multiple opportunities to speak on the record about these petty cash and field consulting expenditures and the failures to accurately keep the required records. As they have done since this scandal broke, the Lieberman campaign declined to speak about their petty cash problem.
The Lieberman campaign's continued silence only strengthens the need to ask questions like O'Leary has done in this article. She has brought out new information that demands answers from Joe; if she can't get them, I hope the FEC will. Every piece of evidence that comes out suggests malfeasance, albeit of varying degrees, by Joe's campaign. Lieberman's actions and Lieberman's silence do damage to the health of our elections. The need for truth has never been more clear than today.