Jeff Larson used RNC piggy bank to pay friends

Did use of charitable donations violate federal election law?

Vallante could not remember exactly what work he was doing during this profitable period, though he believes it was related to terminating the committee.

"As best as I can recall, we were thinking that at that point we were actually going to close up shop by the early summer," Vallante says.

Vallante received his last $10,000 payment of 2010 on October 1, exactly 25 months after the beginning of the RNC Convention.

As the CEO and treasurer of the committee, Jeff Larson was paid $400,000 after the convention
AP Images/Jim Mone
As the CEO and treasurer of the committee, Jeff Larson was paid $400,000 after the convention


Leatherdale, the board chairman, recalls Vallante as a "very talented guy, and very experienced," but says he was unaware Vallante continued to draw a salary. Also unaware was Cynthia Lesher, the committee president, who says she'd been in contact with Larson as recently as a couple of months ago.

"No, I'm not aware that Mike Vallante is still on the payroll," she says.

But Vallante says he was not the only one still active in the host committee. He says all the financial decisions have gone through Larson.

"Everything is run by Jeff," Vallante says. "He did not have his hands in everything, but certainly, I made sure everything gets run by him."


THE COMMITTEE'S ACTIVITY since the RNC suggests a pattern of improper and possibly illegal spending, says Hamline's David Schultz.

When these political committees register with the FEC, they agree to limit spending to purposes related to the committee's mission. Many of the host committee's expenditures raise red flags in this regard, says Schultz.

"If the committee was set up specifically to provide host services for the 2008 Republican Convention, if it is now spending money and it's unrelated to that purpose, it's probably violating FEC laws, because it's not spending money appropriate for what it was set up to do," Schultz says.

But the expenditure reports to the FEC don't tell the whole story. The rules dictating what the committee must report are incredibly lax, so the records often contain very few details, says Bill Allison, editorial director for the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan government watchdog group.

"There's just a lack of transparency in all FEC disclosures about what campaigns are spending their money on," says Allison. "So we see the staffers who are expensing meals, car rental, airfare, and so on, and drawing salaries through October. I mean, exactly what they're doing for the committee is somewhat questionable."

Aside from the employees who were paid out long after the convention left town, the payments to political fundraising consultants are also potential violations, says Lloyd Mayer, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame who specializes in nonprofit tax law.

Mayer says that the very fact Vanhove, Nelson, and McGill—career fundraisers for Republican candidates—were paid for donor analysis is enough to raise suspicion, and leaves open the possibility of IRS violations.

"The question is, what's the analysis going to be used for, and more importantly, who's going to have access to that list?" Mayer says. "The IRS rulings are clear that if you're a charity, you have a donor list, or you have information about your donor list, and then you give that to a political candidate or a political party for their use...that's going to cross the line."

Craig Holman of Public Citizen also says the committee's spending pattern long after the convention is very abnormal, and deserves explanation.

"The answers to these questions must come from those receiving the payments," Holman says.


THERE'S REALLY ONLY one man in a good position to explain away the questionable spending, and that's Jeff Larson.

After weeks of interview requests, Larson sent an email agreeing to answer our questions via email.

In his response, Larson explains that he took the position with the host committee because he saw an opportunity to help put the Twin Cities in the national spotlight.

"I believed the Twin Cities needed a shot in the arm," he wrote. "It had been a long time since Minneapolis-St. Paul had hosted anything nearly as large as the National Convention. You would have to go back to the Super Bowl in 1991 since we were on the national stage."

In terms of the committee's continued existence, Larson blames the FEC, though he wasn't more specific as to why.

His telemarketing firm received payments from the committee after the convention because people who use the office and its equipment were still tying up loose ends, Larson explained. This includes filing final reports and transferring the files to digital formats, which can be viewed by future convention host committees. FLS also stores files related to the committee.

Larson did not respond to our questions about specific payments to various employees after the convention, but offered a lengthy list of ways in which the committee went above and beyond its calling, including planning a thank-you party for volunteers and donating $6 million to charity.

"It was my job to ensure that all the work we did running up to and after the convention would not be lost because we closed our doors before we were allowed to do so," he says. "Despite that frustration with the FEC delays, we were still able to fulfill our mission and help the community."

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