In separate interviews, Fox News hosts Bill Hemmer and Greta Van Susteren allowed Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) to attack the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) on the grounds that in 1999 and 2000, one of its leaders embezzled from the group. However, at no point did either Hemmer or Van Susteren note that in 2008, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) stated that its treasurer had embezzled more than $600,000 from the organization over the course of several years.
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Fox hosts let Issa attack ACORN over embezzlement
Issa to Hemmer: "[I]f you'll cover up a million, you'll cover up 5 million." Discussing the charge that ACORN founder Wade Rathke's brother Dale -- whom ACORN officials have admitted embezzled nearly $1 million from the group and affiliated organizations in 1999 and 2000 -- may have actually embezzled $5 million, Issa told Hemmer on America's Newsroom that "if you'll cover up a million, you'll cover up 5 million," but that the "bigger question" is "whether or not Bertha Lewis as CEO is ever going to change the company to be more conventional as a nonprofit."
Issa to Van Susteren: We don't know details of embezzlement from ACORN because it is "a group that lives on its internal secrecies." Van Susteren allowed Issa to claim that "we don't know whether 1 million or 5 million was embezzled more than eight years ago" and that ACORN "is a group that lives on its internal secrecies and doesn't want us to know where the money went." He also stated that "embezzlement is a business of secrets, and it's very hard to know how much was misdirected in that case. But remember, a lot of money's misdirected as a matter of practice. Money is recruited from all kinds of sources that ends up in political activities."
Hemmer, Van Susteren did not mention NRCC embezzlement during interview
NRCC chairman Cole: It "appears likely" treasurer embezzled "several hundred thousand dollars" from NRCC. In a March 13, 2008, statement, then-chairman Tom Cole acknowledged "apparent accounting irregularities" that had occurred within the organization. Cole explained that former treasurer Chris Ward "submitted to the NRCC's bank and to NRCC leadership bogus audit reports for 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005" and that "[a]n additional bogus audit was submitted to the NRCC's bank for 2006." Cole also stated that "it appears likely that over a period of several years Ward made several hundred thousand dollars in unauthorized transfers of NRCC funds to outside committees whose bank accounts he had access to, including joint fundraising committees in which the NRCC participated. He also appears to have made subsequent transfers of several hundred thousand dollars in funds from those outside committees to what appear to be his personal and business bank accounts. Those unauthorized transactions date back to at least 2004." [NRCC statement, 3/13/08]
NRCC filed $675,000 in "unauthorized disbursements" with FEC. NRCC treasurer Keith A. Davis subsequently filed with the Federal Election Commission a "list of unauthorized disbursements not previously reflected on the National Republican Congressional Committee's ... periodic disclosure reports" amounting to roughly $675,000. [NRCC's FEC Form 99, 12/19/08]
Ward reportedly under criminal investigation by FBI. According to a February 23 Politico article, Ward "remains under criminal investigation by the FBI" and the "Justice Department is trying to seize Ward's home in Bethesda, Md., as part of a civil forfeiture action."
Issa repeatedly gave money to NRCC. Throughout the period during which Ward allegedly embezzled money from the organization, Issa repeatedly donated money to the NRCC. According to FEC data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, Issa gave a total of $116,500 to the NRCC Incumbent Support Fund during the 2008 campaign cycle, a total of $140,000 to the NRCC Incumbent Support Fund during the 2006 campaign cycle, and provided one lump sum of $100,000 to NRCC Battleground 2004 on September 14, 2004.
From the October 6 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
HEMMER: We've been waiting for comment on the embezzlement charge. What is your reaction from 1 million to possibly $5 million embezzled by ACORN?
ISSA: Well, as you know, ACORN is so opaque to all of us because of its unique status as a nonprofit, taxable entity that, really, we have no way of knowing. And if you'll cover up a million, you'll cover up 5 million.
Our bigger question is not how opaque they were in the past, it's whether or not Bertha Lewis as CEO is ever going to change the company to be more conventional as a nonprofit, the way the Red Cross or other organizations are, which tend to be very transparent.
HEMMER: Well, she says the allegations are completely false, a comment I believe she gave yesterday.
From the October 6 edition of Fox News' On the Record with Greta Van Susteren:
VAN SUSTEREN: Are you of the mind that all ACORN money spent so far has been wasteful or subject to fraud, or do you think some of it's been a legitimate expense for good purpose?
ISSA: Well, absolutely. Some of what ACORN has done has been in support of good causes, and they bring that up all the time. But, you know, Bernie Madoff gave to charity. That doesn't necessarily make up for the bad work done. And there are lots of charity, nonprofit groups out there who regularly compete against ACORN for those same grants. They would do them without the adverse side effects.
VAN SUSTEREN: What do you expect ACORN to do at this point, or do you think it should be the Justice Department going in and doing a full-scale investigation? Or do you think ACORN should be doing something?
ISSA: Bertha Lewis has an opportunity, even today, to have outside auditors -- real, live independent auditors, not a Democrat operative that makes a quick brush-over -- which, by the way, we believe still shows the lack of firewalls. But if she calls in, as I said the other day, PricewaterhouseCoopers or some independent audit organization, says, "Audit our books. Figure out where the money went and tell us what we need to do," then she could begin to rebuild the organization.
VAN SUSTEREN: Why don't you think she's done that?
ISSA: I don't think she's done it for the same reason as we don't know whether 1 million or 5 million was embezzled more than eight years ago. This is a group that lives on its internal secrecies and doesn't want us to know where the money went.
VAN SUSTEREN: Are you satisfied that 5 million is the top lid, or could it -- or are you suspicious it could be more?
ISSA: You know, embezzlement is a business of secrets, and it's very hard to know how much was misdirected in that case. But remember, a lot of money's misdirected as a matter of practice. Money is recruited from all kinds of sources that ends up in political activities.