Two weeks ago, Roll Call unearthed a number of occasions where Rep. Ron Paul took full reimbursements for travel from both taxpayers and from political groups, apparently pocketing the cash. His campaign responded that a few errors might have occurred but no intentional fraud had ever occurred. Today, Roll Call reports that they have found more cases of double-dipping, and get libertarian activist and former Paul ally David James to go on the record as saying he warned Paul of this very practice — and that it lead to a falling out between the two:
Roll Call reported Feb. 6 that Paul was repeatedly paid twice for flights between Washington, D.C., and his Congressional district, receiving reimbursement from taxpayers and also from a network of political and nonprofit organizations he controlled, according to public records and credit card statements for an American Express card in Paul’s name.
Spokesman Jesse Benton said then it was “possible that wholly inadvertent errors were made in a handful of instances” in which flights were reimbursed twice, but he maintained that “absolutely zero taxpayer funds were ever misused.”
But James’ recollection and new documents obtained by Roll Call suggest Paul was aware that he was often being reimbursed twice for individual flights. In all, Roll Call found 26 flights in which several layers of documentation show double payments: credit card statements that detail the ticket purchases, a payment to Paul from his taxpayer-funded House account for reimbursement of a flight and Federal Election Commission records or copies of checks that verify a second payment from a separate group for the same flight.
Roll Call obtained copies of checks from the Liberty Committee to American Express that paid for Paul’s expenses. The records obtained by Roll Call cover about 17 nonconsecutive months. Beyond the 26 flights, documents show an additional 31 flights where it appears Paul was double-reimbursed but the records lack sufficient detail to prove duplicate payments.
The issue between James and Paul goes back to 2005, when James first discovered the double-dipping and assumed it was an error. As chair of the Liberty Committee, he pressed Paul’s office to get documentation for the flights that the Liberty Committee had already reimburses, but kept getting stalled by Paul and his Congressional staff. James raised the issue directly with Paul and got a surprising response:
The office manager said Paul’s Congressional office no longer had documentation for that flight; Paul had sent it in to the House Finance Office for reimbursement. But Liberty Committee had already sent a check to American Express to cover the charge on Paul’s credit card.
“I don’t care what flights the Liberty Committee pays for,” James said, “because Ron never took enough in expenses to come anywhere near his value to us. And this was piddly. But it’s just what it was.”
James first thought it was accidental and faxed a letter to Paul’s office, requesting that its money be returned for the flight. Paul did repay the $403.70, but the episode strained their relationship and led to a falling out a year later.
In a subsequent conversation, James raised the issue, and Paul “was very curt, and he simply said, ‘Yep, well, happens all the time,’” James, 64, told Roll Call.
In the end, this contributed to a battle between James and Paul over control of Liberty Committee. After a series of conflicts over this and other issues, Paul tried to get the LC’s board to toss James out of the group and align themselves with Paul. The effort failed, and James remains in control of the Liberty Committee. The group still backs libertarian-based legislation in Congress, including from Paul, but no longer have ties to Paul’s Congressional office. Roll Call reports that James sent a demand last week for an explanation of $10,000 in reimbursements for almost twenty flights that may have been double-billed to taxpayers and the LC, and have yet to get a response.
Despite the response from the campaign earlier this month, Paul and his Congressional staff knew about this issue for years before Roll Call reported the story, and apparently did little to resolve it. Two weeks ago, I wrote that this would likely end in some checks being cut and disclosure forms amended, but Paul’s team had better start working on that ASAP before this turns into an Ethics Committee hearing.