GOP Candidates Nix Consultant

NRCC Probe Spurs Quick Moves
David M. Drucker and Paul SingerFebruary 7, 2008

Four Republican Congressional campaigns have severed ties with their treasurer after allegations surfaced that the FBI is investigating financial irregularities that transpired while he served at the National Republican Congressional Committee.
One of the four candidates, Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-La.), told Roll Call on Wednesday that his campaign has terminated its relationship with Christopher Ward after hearing reports that he is the target of the NRCC investigation. A GOP insider familiar with the investigation confirmed that Ward is the target.

“He was our treasurer, but he won’t be anymore,” Alexander said.

Ward on Wednesday did not respond to a voice mail message or e-mail requesting comment. Ward served as the NRCC treasurer until last summer and also has several consulting businesses that provide campaign finance recordkeeping and reporting services to clients.

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NRCC Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) announced Friday that the committee had discovered “irregularities in our financial audit process” and asked the FBI to investigate. Cole said the NRCC terminated its relationship “with a former employee who had been engaged as an outside vendor,” but he refused to identify the vendor.

The Republican insider familiar with the investigation confirmed that Ward’s status as an NRCC vendor has been terminated. According to the NRCC’s 2007 year-end Federal Election Commission report, C.J. Ward & Co. LLC was paid by the NRCC for services rendered on Dec. 3 — just two months ago.

Additional Republican sources familiar with the case have said Ward is the target of the investigation. But the NRCC — on the advice of outside counsel, according to one of those sources — has been careful not to name him, even when briefing Republican House Members.

The NRCC on Wednesday declined to comment for this story.

But according to Republicans familiar with the situation, FBI investigators have been to the committee’s offices, as has a well-known accounting firm brought in to conduct a “forensic” investigation of its own — with both entities focusing on activities conducted by Ward in 2006 and previously.

No evidence of a theft of funds has been discovered at this point, just accounting irregularities suggesting that some sort of malfeasance might have occurred. However, all of the money raised, spent and banked in the current election cycle has been accounted for by the NRCC.

“No money has disappeared from this cycle,” one source said.

Added the Republican insider familiar with the investigation: “We know that there was a bad apple that didn’t do his job. He was in charge of finances and reporting, and right now the extent of what he did, or didn’t do, is being investigated. We don’t know if he stole anything; we just know he went through elaborate hoaxes to make people think things were getting done that werent.”

Meanwhile, it appears that when the committee decided to sever ties with Ward, NRCC officials did not alert GOP candidates who were using his services.

Alexander said he heard about the investigation from another campaign consultant who works for him, but that he has not yet heard from the NRCC about it.

“I’m anxious to talk to Tom Cole,” Alexander said. “We still don’t know any of the details about why [the consultant is] being investigated.”

Rep. Vito Fossella (R-N.Y.) and Illinois Republican candidates Tim Baldermann and Aaron Schock also have severed ties with Ward, who served as treasurer for their campaign committees, according to their spokesmen.

For the 2007-2008 campaign cycle, Ward has been listed as the treasurer of 31 campaign committees, according to data provided by the FEC. The list includes member re-election committees, political action committees and joint fundraising committees, some of which are inactive. Ward’s firms — Political Compliance Services, CJ Ward and Associates, and American Political Webware — have been paid tens of thousands of dollars by Republican campaigns and organizations over the past year, according to FEC records.

Schock campaign manager Steve Shearer said the campaign hired Ward because of his impressive history of working for Republican candidates and committees.

“He was the gold standard of making sure we weren’t going to have any problems with the FEC,” Shearer said.

But after reading about the case in the news over the weekend, Shearer said the campaign made a change.

“We replaced our treasurer on Saturday,” he said.

The Baldermann campaign reacted similarly.

“Though all the facts are still unknown, we are nonetheless moving swiftly in taking the necessary steps to designate a new campaign treasurer due to the gravity of the matter,” Baldermann campaign spokesman Andy Seré said.

Baldermann and Schock both won their primaries Tuesday night, and both campaigns said there is no evidence that any of their campaign money is missing or has been misreported. Alexander said the investigation “causes some concerns and raises red flags” but that he does not have any reason to believe any money has been lost.

Fossella campaign spokeswoman Georgea Kay said, “We have severed ties with this vendor as of last week and have hired a new accounting firm.”

“It’s a distraction,” House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said of the accounting troubles, but he said that it would be a short-term issue that won’t mean much outside Washington.

Blunt also praised the committee leadership for taking swift action to correct the problems. “Leadership, including Chairman Cole, have been committed to getting to the bottom of any problem,” Blunt said.

“We’ll move on.”

Blunt added that he remains confident in the committee’s leadership, despite the accounting problems and a persistent lag in fundraising relative to the Democrats.

Lauren W. Whittington and Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.