Jeff Larson used RNC piggy bank to pay friends

Did use of charitable donations violate federal election law?

When asked to clarify a few more details, Larson declined. "I have spent far too much time on your request already," he says.

"Bottom line is the host committee raised private dollars to put on the convention," says Larson. "No public dollars were used. We raised dollars to relieve taxpayers of paying for services including promoting the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. We had a great convention from all accounts."

Vallante, the committee's chief of staff, also blames the FEC for not allowing the committee to close out.

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

Details

"We had hoped, literally, in 2009 we'd be able to close the thing out," Vallante says. "We repeatedly asked them, 'Can we close? Can we close?'"

Asked why the committee's terminations were rejected, Vallante laughs. "I wish I knew," he says.

FEC spokesperson Julia Queen says the answer is simple: The reason the committee was not able to close out is because it continued to have an active account by paying people like Vallante.

"They must be doing something to show that some activity is going on," Queen says. "Because [FEC regulations] say that once they have ceased activity, then they can file a final report."

John Knapp, the committee's lawyer, contends it was not allowed to terminate because FEC commissioners had wanted to take a closer look at the official audit, which found almost $3 million in unreported donations. Queen, the FEC spokeswoman, could not confirm this.

On February 3, Larson received a huge promotion. He was named chief of staff for RNC chair Reince Preibus. In hiring Larson, the RNC counted his work with the host committee as one of his qualifications.

The day he was hired to his new job, Larson transferred control of the RNC committee to Sheila Berkeley. Berkeley is an employee of FLS, which Larson left in November. She has not responded to numerous requests for an interview.

In terms of the committee's spending, the law is complicated. It would take a full investigation to determine whether the years of continued payments crossed the line, says Schultz.

"The FEC is just backlogged and unable to get to all the problems, and that may be what's going on here," he says. "It also could be that they're doing just a really good job in terms of hiding what they're doing."

  

Postscript: On March 10, as this story was going to press, Berkeley filed termination papers for the host committee. The filing documents show how the remainder of the surplus was disbursed.

As planned, the bulk went to charity: About $1.2 million was paid to the Minneapolis Foundation, another $1.2 million to the St. Paul Foundation, and $590,000 to the Minnesota Community Foundation.

But not all of the money paid out this year went to nonprofits.

On February 15, Mike Vallante got one last salary payment of $10,000 for "Management Consulting."

On February 21, the committee's funds reimbursed Vallante $100 for food and another $1,404 that is unexplained. That same day, the committee paid a combined $1,200 in reimbursements for a rental car, airfare, and hotel room, though the records don't name the recipient.

In an interview the day after the reimbursements were filed, Vallante explained how aggravated he was that the FEC didn't allow the committee to close.

"We all knew there was going to be clean-up work to take place afterwards," said Vallante. "There was gonna be paperwork, legal work. And it kind of—not kind of, it just dragged on."

Dissecting the RNC Piggy Bank

[click to enlarge]

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