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 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 in 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 (including the $122,000) 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 (including the $122,000)? 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.
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 from 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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