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Bilked by Adviser, Doggett Gets FEC Fine

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), whose campaign was bilked out of more than $160,000 over a half-decade, says a new Federal Election Commission proposal that cracks down on volunteers and staffers looking to make a quick buck by skimming the campaign till doesn’t go far enough.

Doggett also is angry that his campaign committee was fined by the FEC for filing faulty campaign finance reports, even though he was victimized by his former treasurer who siphoned the funds.

Within weeks, the FEC is expected to revisit a proposal introduced in October, which would provide accounting guidelines for campaigns and committees “to guard against embezzlement and unintentional reporting errors.”

In the agency’s draft recommendations released in mid-October, committees should open bank accounts only in the name of the committee, require two co-signers on all payments of more than $1,000, immediately stamp incoming checks “For Deposit Only” with the appropriate account number, segregate bank account reconciling and check-writing duties and require receipts before petty cash supplies are replenished.

If campaign cash winds up missing, the agency’s proposed guidance explains, the committee must notify the FEC and law enforcement authorities and file amended campaign-finance disclosure reports. By following these guidelines, committees could avoid being on the hook for filing faulty FEC statements, which in Doggett’s case resulted in a hefty fine.

“[If] internal controls are in place at the time of misappropriation … the FEC will not seek to impose liability on the political committee for filing incorrect reports due to the misappropriation of committee funds,” the agency’s policy proposal concludes. “The commission will also consider the presence at some, but not all, of these practices or comparable safeguards as a mitigating factor in considering any liability from a misappropriation.”

But Doggett is concerned that the proposal’s loosely worded guidelines inadvertently will allow situations such as his to slip through the cracks, leaving candidates feeling not only betrayed and broke but also penalized by the government for their troubles.

“Their rule may prevent other kinds of problems but would not have prevented this embezzlement,” Doggett said, speaking of his own experiences with former campaign treasurer Kristi Willis. “What she was doing, the reforms won’t make a difference, given her scheme.”

According to a deal cut between the FEC and Doggett’s campaign last month, Willis worked as a bookkeeper for the seven-term Democrat between 1998 and 2004. She was not allowed to write checks, and all bank accounts were opened in the name of the committee. Still, the agreement states that Willis began writing herself checks out of the committee’s account in January 1999, which she continued to do on and off until March 2004.

All told, Willis walked away with about $168,000.

About a year ago, Doggett’s campaign discovered the missing funds and began revising its disclosure statements with the FEC in February 2006. Last month, the FEC fined Doggett’s campaign $6,500 for filing inaccurate statements over the five-year period.

The Texas lawmaker was furious.

“Everything that is in this agreement is something that I voluntarily brought to the FEC,” Doggett said. “My campaign filed revised reports when we discovered the embezzlement a year or so back.”

He added: “I do believe it to be a rather strange approach to fine the person from whom money was stolen. I suppose the [proposed] rule serves to remind campaigns to exercise extraordinary care to make sure someone is not stealing for you. I didn’t need a fine as an additional incentive because these dollars are hard to raise.”

FEC spokesman Bob Biersack said Friday that commissioners could revise the proposal’s language before voting on the matter at an upcoming meeting.

In another development, the FEC ordered Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) last week to repay $137,000 for improper use of public money during his ill-fated 2004 presidential run. Kucinich received $3.3 million in matching campaign funds for his 2004 presidential election. He is now making a second White House bid.

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