Annapolitan Steve Lebowitz Digging Into Michael Steele ~ Annapolis Capital Punishment

Monday, February 22, 2010

Annapolitan Steve Lebowitz Digging Into Michael Steele

This story has gone viral on Daily Kos, and elsewhere so I'll jump on the bandwagon and give a plug to local writer Steve Lebowitz who wrote the following and has allowed me to crosspost this here on CP:

Every time Michael Steele sticks his foot in his mouth, a flood of news outlets fall over themselves echoing each others’ story.
But few reporters pursue serious questions involving Michael Steele's use and misuse of office.  The Washington Times' Ralph Hallow is an exception, as is the National Journal's Reid Wilson, but other media rarely pick up their stories.
How many media outlets will cover a report by the Baltimore Sun's Paul West this weekend on a six-figure fee Michael Steele paid a Washington law firm from his leftover Maryland campaign fund? Let me summarize the most important part:

A source close to Michael Steele, who wishes to remain anonymous, claimed the $122,000 Mr. Steele's Maryland campaign account paid to a Washington law firm over the past six months was for an 'internal audit' of that account "to make sure everything was OK."
If your baloney meter isn't pinned right now, replace the batteries, because that's a whopper.
Let's put that explanation perspective.  The anonymous source inside the Steele camp said the $122,000 paid to a Washington law firm was for an 'internal audit' of a campaign account that only raised $907,000 and spent $312,000 in the 2002 to 2006 election cycle, and has raised a meager $46,000 and spent $540,000 since then, mostly in cut and dry transfers to the Maryland Republican Party and other Republican campaigns.
Would anyone in their right mind pay $122,000 to a law firm to audit an account that has raised only $953,000 since 2002 and spent only $852,000? I find it hard to believe a law firm bill totaling 14 percent of all the money Mr. Steele's account has spent since 2002 was for an "internal audit" to "make sure everything was OK."
And I don't believe everything is OK.
Criminal Defense
A $122,000 payment to a law firm in an off year looks and smells like the kind of money a politician under investigation would pay to save his neck from....

* Payments to Steele's Sister - Last year the Washington Post's Henri Cauvin reported the FBI was investigating allegations from the finance chairman of Mr. Steele's unsuccessful 2006 U.S. Senate campaign, Alan Fabian, while seeking leniency following his guilty plea in a $40 million computer leaseback scheme.  The key allegation was that Mr. Steele's senate campaign paid $37,000 to a defunct company owned by his sister for work she didn't perform.
* Payments to Steele's Friend Sandy Roberts - Also last year, WBAL-TV Baltimore's Jayne Miller reported Mr. Steele and his ticket mate, former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich, paid $417,000 form donors' money in the final weeks of their 2006 campaign to another defunct company owned by Mr. Steele's friend and advisor, the Washington lawyer, Sandy Roberts.  Mr. Roberts never claimed to be in any kind of campaign services business, and no other campaign ever disclosed any payments to him or his firm.
* Sandy Roberts Airport Scandal - In May 2009, Maryland auditors reported the same Sandy Roberts, who is black, posed as an independent airport retail business owner so airport retail giant Hudson News could meet minority participation goals at Baltimore Washington International Airport.  Mr. Steele claimed no involvement, but the Ehrlich/Steele administration certified Mr. Roberts as a qualifying minority retail business in 2004.  Several other Ehrlich/Steele friends secured questionable women- and minority-owned business certifications to win state contracts while the pair was in office.
* Alan Fabian Contract Scandal - In 2006, while Mr. Fabian was the Steele U.S. Senate campaign's finance chairman, the Ehrlich/Steele administration tripled a state contract with Mr. Fabian's company from $700,000 to $2.2 million without competitive bidding.  The Ehrlich/Steele administration awarded the contract to Mr. Fabian over three competitors only eleven months earlier, even though state evaluators determined he was least qualified, because his bid was less than half the price offered by the others.  Outsized contributions from Mr. Fabian bracketed the action, and Mr. Steele, who was Maryland lieutenant governor at the time, flew to fundraisers around the country in Mr. Fabian's private jet while he was a state contractor.
Will the Press Follows Up?
These scandals are well documented, but there is no proof that any federal or state investigation is under way.  They may explain why Mr. Steele paid $122,000 to a Washington law firm from his Maryland campaign account, because I'm not buying the explanation provided by the Steele associate who requested anonymity, and neither should you.

I hope the press will vigorously pursue a proper explanation from Mr. Steele, if for no other reason than his donors deserve to know how Mr. Steele is spending their money.
- Steve Lebowitz, Annapolis

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February 18 City Lobbyist Minor Carter
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March 4 Len Lazarick,
March 11 TBD
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William D said...

Good piece. We ought to sick him on Zina Pierre and get to the bottom of the cash payments to the company no one seems to know about.

Paul Foer said...

William D thanks for the note....please fully identify yourself per instructions on comments page.... Steve--interested??

justdafacts said...

Thanks, William D.

Both the Sun and the Capital failed to do their homework on Iris Queen and Associates when the story broke. The first step when checking out a questionable campaign expenditure is to see if any other candidate reported payments to the same vendor. Both papers did this AFTER the first wave of stories had already appeared. By then it was too late.

When the Sun and the Capital's reporters got around to searching "Iris Queen" and "IQ" under "Payee" at the Maryland Elections Center campaign finance database:

they learned that several reputable candidates paid Iris Queen and IQ Associates $48,000 over the past four or five years for various campaign services, including some very recent payments. That's enough to convince me that she is a legitimate campaign service provider.

Zina Pierre's campaign finance disclosures listed an incorrect mailing address for Iris Queen and/or IQ Associates, which Ms. Pierre later said was the address of the octogenerian parents of Iris Queen or an affiliate. I would have preferred to hear that explanation from Iris Queen herself, as I'll discuss below. None of the other candidates listed that address on their disclosures, although a couple of different addresses were listed.

Ms. Pierre got a lot of negative attention because of her personal finances and residency questions, but in the case of her payments to Iris Queen, I believe it unnecessarily spun out of control. If Ms. Pierre had simply produced Iris Queen, by phone or in person, the story would have shut down. Even if Ms. Queen was half way around the world at the time, someone from her firm, or perhaps one of her satisfied customers, could have stepped forward. She never did, and Zina Pierre suffered.

There's a lesson: If your campaign pays a vendor $11,500, you should make darn certain that vendor will be available to explain the expenditure to the press and the public at the drop of a hat if needed.

- Steve Lebowitz, Annapolis

Paul Foer said...

Steve Let us not forget that her campaign had checks out order, missing checks and a big gap of time with no checks at the height of her campaign...

William D said...

Steve--if I recall correctly, the candidates IQ Associates listed as "clients" did not know who she was.

Absent any dementia, wouldn't it stand to reason that a parent would know the name of their child? The papers went to the address and the residents claim to never have heard of the person.

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