This has all the markings of a politician who’s been in office too long, Dewhurst blames aide for missing money.
Buddy Barfield, an Austin Republican political consultant under scrutiny after up to $1.3 million disappeared from Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s campaign account over the past five years, has had financial troubles since at least 2006, according to Travis County court records.
Officials with the Travis County district attorney’s office said Friday that they had begun an investigation after Dewhurst associates came to them Dec. 20 to report concerns about Barfield’s handling of the campaign’s money.
The Dewhurst campaign Dec. 21 filed 11 corrected campaign finance reports with the Texas Ethics Commission dating back to 2008, claiming that neither Dewhurst nor campaign treasurer Howard Wolf, an Austin lawyer and longtime business associate of Dewhurst’s, knew until recently of discrepancies in the reports. The corrected reports lay all the problems at the feet of Barfield.
The campaign manager for Dewhurst’s 2010 re-election campaign, according to a terse paragraph inserted into each corrected report, said Barfield had engaged in “misrepresentation of campaign balances … for his personal benefit.”
The corrected reports change only the contribution balance figures — essentially cash on hand at the end of each particular reporting period — rather than amounts of the actual political donations and campaign expenditures. Relying on actual bank account balances at various times, the new figures are $600,000 to $1.3 million lower than what the original documents reported was on hand, said Ed Shack, an election lawyer who advised the Dewhurst campaign.
Campaign officials, speaking on background because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, said an accountant discovered problems in the campaign books on Dec. 4 and told Wolf, who quickly passed on the information to Dewhurst. The next day, Dewhurst, his lawyers and the accountant confronted Barfield, the campaign officials say. The campaign was facing a legal deadline, so officials filed the amended paperwork and took their complaints to the district attorney shortly before Christmas.
Buck Wood, an election law expert and a Democrat, said that regardless of what Barfield might or might not have done with the numbers, Wolf bears some responsibility because he signed and affirmed the accuracy of all campaign finance reports in the five years under review.
“Everyone should understand that if you’re going to be treasurer, you’ve got to be treasurer,” Wood said. “There’s none of this figurehead stuff. … They can’t say, ‘I didn’t check’ or ‘I didn’t know.’”
Wolf referred all questions to Johnson. Dewhurst’s government office directed questions to the campaign.
The Dewhurst campaign committee collected about $16.9 million in contributions between the beginning of 2008 and June 30 this year, the corrected reports say. During that period, the committee spent just under $18 million, the reports say, or about $1.1 million more than it collected.
However, the campaign also secured as much as $2.5 million in loans, complicating the math from 2008 on.
At least, so far, this seems like a case of one dishonest insider. But as the DMN article points out big money campaigns can often allow “trusted” advisers to handle large amounts of money with little or not oversight.
In the Dewhurst case, Barfield apparently had access to the committee’s bank accounts with little oversight from others. That’s not a wise practice, experts said.
“It’s inadvisable, as the Dewhurst debacle has demonstrated,” said Cal Jillson, political science professor at Southern Methodist University.
“Campaigns are high-pressure events,” Jillson said. “Everyone has a full plate, everyone is going a mile a minute, so you can imagine how something like that can happen.”
The difference here though is that this started in 2008 and is just now coming to light. Here’s Kuff’s take on this.
Up to a million dollars may be at issue here. I’ll keep an eye on this, as I’m sure it will be a rather unwelcome distraction for Dewhurst during the session and his upcoming primary race. To be honest, I’m a little surprised there haven’t been more such allegations. Given the huge amounts of money spent in this past election, the secrecy involved with a lot of big-dollar PACs, and the wildly varying rates that can be charged for things like TV ad buys, it’s not hard to imagine grifters of various stripe seeing lots of opportunity in this kind of work. I have a feeling Dewhurst will have some company, inside and outside Texas, any time now.
Dewhurst may be the first of more to come.