- The Washington Times - Friday, March 14, 2008

The House Republicans’ recruiting and fundraising arm said yesterday that a former treasurer made hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of unauthorized and unreported withdrawals from its bank account, funneling the money to other political committees and possibly to a personal account.

The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) says it dismissed former Treasurer Christopher Ward on Jan. 28 after learning of significant accounting irregularities. The committee, concerned that it may have been the victim of fraud, said it then immediately contacted the FBI, which is investigating.

NRCC officials say they had no prior knowledge of the accounting problems.

“The evidence we have today indicates we have been deceived and betrayed for a number of years by a highly respected and trusted individual,” said committee Chairman Rep. Tom Cole, Oklahoma Republican. “It is my goal to be open and candid with the facts of this matter.”

Mr. Ward also filed bogus annual audits on behalf of the committee from 2002 to 2006, according to an internal investigation conducted by the law firm of Covington & Burling LLP and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Mr. Ward served as NRCC treasurer from 2003 to July 2007, but he remained a consultant with the committee until January.

Attempts to reach his attorney yesterday for comment were unsuccessful.

Rob Kelner of Covington & Burling said it doesn’t appear that the NRCC will face criminal charges in the matter because the committee has been “very aggressive in disclosing what it knows to appropriate law enforcement authorities.”

Mr. Kelner added that similar cases of potential unauthorized bank transfers are not unusual among political committees and corporations and that the organizations in these situations rarely face legal challenges.

“If you had an organization where the leadership said ‘go do this,’ sure, the organization would have potential [legal] exposure,” Mr. Kelner said.

“That’s not what we see here. … We’re not aware of anybody else colluding with [Mr. Ward] on this,” he said.

Mr. Kelner added it may take another six to eight weeks to finish the investigation.

Because of the accounting discrepancies, the NRCC, which has had significant fundraising problems the past year, had even less money in the bank than its leaders realized. At the end of January, the committee reported to federal election officials that it had $6.4 million in cash on hand, although the actual number was about $740,000 less, according to the internal investigation.

The committee’s actual available cash at the end of 2006 was about $900,000 less than reported.

Meanwhile, the NRCC’s Democratic counterpart, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, reported $35.5 million in available funds at the end of January.

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