Thursday, November 02, 2006

Forget About Lieberman's Slush Fund (For The Moment) . . . .

. . . . Connecticut voters should worry about Lieberman (if he wins in Tuesday's midterms) owing somebody for a quashed investigation.

Ned Lamont filed an FEC complaint over Lieberman’s expenditure of petty cash. It's mighty sad that a private citizen has to do this, that there isn't an automatic mechanism that triggers an investigation by an arm of our government when a candidate can dispense large amounts of petty cash from his campaign and not have to account for it.

The New Haven Register reports:
A review of the use of consultant services by Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman’ campaign, which in turn dispensed large amounts of petty cash, raises questions about the practice.

Lieberman’s Democratic opponent, Ned Lamont, has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission over the $387,000 in petty cash the senator spent in the waning days before the August Democratic primary.

Political committees may make expenditures of not more than $100 to any person or for a transaction out of the petty cash fund and are required to keep a written journal documenting the payments.

The campaign has said it is under no legal obligation to release the journal and has no plans to do so. Lieberman also said their attorney has assured him that they have done nothing illegal.

"To me, this is just a political trick," Lieberman said of the complaint filed by the Lamont campaign.

But interviews with some of the people who were brought in to help get out the vote for the campaign in the two weeks before the hotly contested Aug. 8 primary described situations that appear to be at odds with some campaign finance requirements.

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.

The campaign failed to make campaign manager Sherry Brown available for an interview on the campaign report and the status of the journal. Treasurer Lynn Fusco also failed to return phone calls seeking comment.

Also, 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.

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."

Lieberman answered an inquiry about releasing the journal, by pointing to his history of compliance with campaign rules.

"I have an unblemished record of compliance with election laws. I always tell my staff at the beginning, whatever you do, just totally follow the law. I’ve never received anything approaching even a fine," the senator said in a recent interview.

The size of the petty cash involved raised eyebrows with the nonpartisan Public Campaign Action Fund, which asked the campaign to go beyond the legal requirements and disclose the particulars of the expenditures.

"No other senatorial campaign that we know of has ever left undisclosed to the public a sum as large as this," said the fund’s board Chairman Pete MacDowell, in a letter to the senator this week.

He said the issue could impact future elections if the campaign found a new loophole and is setting a precedent "of opening up a serious breach in the campaign finance disclosure laws."

If Lieberman wins the election, who will he be beholden to? The citizens of Connecticut or Bush-Cheney (Rove), for keeping his keester out of the hoosegow?

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