Bush disclosure forms in error

Bush disclosure forms in error

By By Joe Baker, Senior Editor

By Joe Baker

Senior Editor

Disclosure forms, filed with the IRS on behalf of the Bush-Cheney recount fund and revealing “soft money” donations, were not turned in for 18 months and contained thousands of errors and omissions, according to Public Citizen.org, a public interest website.

Public Citizen said that under the existing disclosure laws, the Bush-Cheney fund is liable for fines of up to $850,000.

The Bush-Cheney 2000, Inc. Recount Fund, a political group created after the November 2000 election, filed its disclosure reports on July 15, 2002, the final day of an IRS amnesty program. The program allowed out-of-compliance groups to file late but still avoid heavy fines.

Public Citizen said the Bush-Cheney reports were not complete because they did not show the employer and occupation of individual donors in many cases and therefore could be subject to fines.

The fund also did not tell the IRS about more than 600 donors it listed on the Bush campaign’s website.

Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, said: “It is unacceptable for the Bush-Cheney recount fund to dodge disclosure for 18 months and then arrogantly suggest, as did the fund’s lawyer when speaking recently to reporters, that the law does not apply to them. They must take responsibility for the tardy filings, and they owe the public an apology, not lame excuses.”

Examination of the disclosure reports revealed the recount fund did not list employer or occupation for some 2,456 contributors who gave more than $200. That is a requirement of the law. Those omissions come to $2 million. The IRS may levy a fine of 35% against the fund, which would come to $711,000.

These disclosure reports also show 6,806 donors who gave more than $200, but a database of contributors on the Bush campaign website lists 7,421 contributors. If the website is correct, that’s a disparity of 615 contributors not reported to the IRS. That could mean a fine of at least $43,000.

The Bush-Cheney fund, in addition, did not list employer and occupation for 143 individuals who gave more than $500. That totaled $272,050. At a 35 percent rate, that could result in a fine of $95,000.

There also were five other reports not filed with the IRS in the 18-month period. The group finally reported $10.2 million in contributions and expenditures of $13.8 million. The expenditures included $28,281 paid to Enron, $2,407 to Halliburton and $1,724 to Reliant Energy for use of their private jets. All three companies are being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission for doctoring their books.

Benjamin Ginsberg, the fund’s lawyer, told The Washington Post on July 27: “ We don’t think we have an obligation to file this. We still think we are exempt, but the truth is: Why not take this issue off the table?”

Despite more than 1,000 disclosure errors, the IRS may not penalize the recount fund for its failures. The reason: the IRS has yet to create a compliance program for such groups, which are known as 527 groups, and it may not be equipped to investigate or fine them, including those affiliated with a presidential campaign.

Frank Clemente, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch, commented: “The Bush-Cheney campaign had 18 months to comply with the law, and the IRS had two years to create a compliance program. Neither has met its obligations to the law and the public.”

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