A wave of campaign embezzlements washed up another victim last week: a former finance director to Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) who allegedly stole roughly $200,000 from Capps’ campaign in the past three years.
The former campaign aide, Jennifer Severance, has repaid $50,000 to the Capps campaign and has agreed to repay another $150,000, the campaign said in a statement.
At Capps’ direction, the campaign referred the matter to the FBI, which can investigate the matter and bring in federal prosecutors.
In the past year, Members of Congress and Congressional candidates from New Hampshire to Hawaii have discovered that once-trusted political aides have vacuumed piles of cash from their campaign accounts.
Neither the Federal Election Commission nor election law requires a campaign to inform law enforcement authorities when a theft of funds is discovered. However, during the past three years, a wide range of campaign embezzlements have come to light.
Sens. Trent Lott (R-Miss), Joseph Biden (D-Del.), Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), and Reps. John Boehner (R-Ohio), Henry Bonilla (R-Texas), Anne Northup (R-Ky.), Ernest Istook (R-Okla.), Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), Sam Farr (D-Calif.) and former Rep. Gary Condit (D-Calif.) all reported embezzlement schemes involving accounts for their campaigns or their political action committees.
In addition, Robert Lamutt, a Republican Congressional hopeful in Georgia, and one-time New Hampshire Senatorial candidate Burt Cohen also reported embezzlements this year. The PACs of the American Forest & Paper Association and Lockheed Martin have also been victimized.
The Capps campaign on Thursday filed amended reports with the FEC going back to 2001.
“The Committee was prompted to take these steps after discovering serious financial irregularities in its campaign records and a widespread pattern of embezzlement perpetrated by the campaign committee’s Finance Director,” the campaign said in a statement.
“This theft was committed by a person who worked for my campaign for more than four years,” Capps said. “She was one of the most trusted and respected members of my political family.
“I am deeply saddened and angry over such a shocking act of betrayal. While these funds were stolen from my campaign account, I am particularly upset that she essentially took the money from the many people on the Central Coast and around the country who had so generously supported me.”
Capps said the campaign has put in place accounting procedures to prevent future thefts.
Nonetheless, campaign funds for most candidates are easy targets for plunder given the often-lax accounting standards of individual campaigns and the minimal threat of an audit from the FEC.
The government does not keep official statistics on incidents of campaign finance embezzlement. But many legal and political experts believe the cases that come to public light are only the tip of the iceberg, given the fear most candidates have of being associated with even a whiff of scandal and the inability of the FEC to police against such fraud.
In most of the known cases, the thefts were revealed by the campaign committees, not the FEC.
Legislation to reform the FEC would restore the ability of the agency to conduct random audits of campaign committees. But that power has been historically resisted by Congress, which stripped the agency of its authority for random audits in 1979 and rejected an attempt to restore it during consideration of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.