Monday, October 23, 2006

Joe Lieberman's Slush Fund Problem

Huffington Post
Matt Stoller
Joe Lieberman's Slush Fund Problem

The practice of vote-buying is not new or surprising in American history, but sometimes the case is particularly brazen. The FEC as a regulatory agency was created to stop these illegal practices in elections, and the key to stopping these practices, or at least limiting them, is disclosure. When someone's not disclosing, they are often not engaging in honest electioneering.

And when someone's not disclosing where $387,000 in campaign cash went in the final days before a primary, well, that's sort of a big red flag.

Speaking of which, Joe Lieberman just reported on his FEC form $387,000 in petty cash disbursements for the last eight days of the primary campaign against Ned Lamont. That's 8% of the total amount he spent, and an incredibly high number. It's also illegal; petty cash disbursements are not supposed to go above $100 apiece, for the simple reason that vote-buying, money-laundering and other illegal and unsavory tactics are easily accomplished when you can just hand out cash, as the Lieberman campaign apparently did.

I almost can't believe the sloppiness here, and the poor handling of the issue from Joe's campaign. It just doesn't seem reasonable for such an experienced politician. And yet, the campaign is now saying that they used the money to pay volunteers (leave the irony alone for a second on that), and went on the attack against Ned Lamont. Lieberman spoksewoman Tammy Sun is simply denying that the Lieberman campaign did anything wrong.

"This is just another reckless charge from a desperate campaign that is obsessed with reliving the primary," said Lieberman spokeswoman Tammy Sun. "The fact is, our attorney has assured us that the petty cash expenditures and the rest of our FEC report is in full compliance with the law's disclosure requirements just as every campaign Joe Lieberman has run for the last 18 years has been."

Who's the lawyer for Lieberman, because I don't believe that any competent lawyer would say anything of the sort. The law looks clear to me.

A political committee may maintain a petty cash fund out of which it may make expenditures not in excess of $100 to any person per purchase or transaction. If a petty cash fund is maintained, it shall be the duty of the treasurer of the political committee to keep and maintain a written journal of all disbursements. This written journal shall include the name and address of every person to whom any disbursement is made, as well as the date, amount, and purpose of such disbursement. In addition, if any disbursement is made for a candidate, the journal shall include the name of that candidate and the office (including State and Congressional district) sought by such candidate.

Let's get beyond the partisan foodfights for a second here and recognize a basic fact. This is $387,000, in cold hard untraceable cash that Lieberman collected and disbursed. We're not talking going out and getting donuts for some volunteers.

This could be a serious legal situation for Lieberman, and he needs to explain it and not just go on the attack. Vote-buying is illegal.

And if this were some sort of clerical error, why couldn't Tammy Sun just admit that and have the story go away?

All in all, it's very confusing. There are much better ways to hide payoffs than reporting illegal disbursements on your publicly accessible FEC report, but then again, the Lieberman staff at the time probably knew that they were all being fired after the primary and were totally exhausted. Attention to detail tends to lapse at times like that. Or maybe there's an innocent explanation, the Lieberman just illegal paid $387,000 in cash to canvassers in the last few days and forgot to catalogue it like the law demands.

I'm only certain of one thing. The Lieberman campaign is hiding something. Whether it's embarrassment at their incompetence or criminal activity I don't know. But they didn't admit a simple mistake and come clean, and that's very strange.