Here's what I don't understand about the Florida Elections Commission investigation of Stacy Ritter: Why weren't there more charges?
As I reported yesterday, four of the charges against Ritter pertain to reimbursements made by her 2008 campaign to her lobbyist husband, Russ Klenet, for expensive dinners at fancy restaurants and trips to casinos and at least one hotel.
But the charges really have nothing to do with Klenet's $300 dinners (more on that later). They solely pertain to the fact that Ritter, who served as her own campaign treasurer, was required by law to report the reason for the reimbursements. On all four, the purpose listed as the reason for the expense was "Fully Receipted Rmbrs Exp." Here, by the way, is a link to the FEC staff recommendation report.
(If the reimbursements are fraudulent, it's a whole new ballgame with very serious criminal ramifications.)
Basically, the FEC has determined that "Fully Receipted Rmbrs Exp." is unlawfully vague in describing a campaign expenditure. What's interesting is that the FEC chose to charge Ritter only four times when there were at least 11 times that her campaign used the notation "Fully Receipted Rmbrs Exp." for substantial checks. At least three of those occasions included hefty checks made to Ritter herself. Ritter received $5,347.33 in three checks from her campaign in that fashion. There may be more, but for some reason, the Broward Supervisor of Elections Office website is missing several campaign reports from Ritter's 2008 campaign.
I am trying to find answers as to why the state didn't charge Ritter for all 11 instances. I'd also like to see those receipts, since the ones pertaining to her husband were so interesting.
Speaking of which, Klenet got on the Pulp yesterday to explain some things. Inside we look at his explanation for what looks on its face like an egregious abuse of his wife's campaign coffers.
Klenet wrote in the comments field yesterday:
Sorry Bob, but each expenditure was backed up with a receipt. all were for legitimate campaign functions, fundraisers, volunteer events and the like. The casino you refer to was a dinner at the restaurant at the Isle with campaign staff and research team. I provided the receipt for the event and reimbursed myself as is perfectly allowed. The FEC indicated that instead of attaching the receipts and listing them collectively, they should have been listed individually. Thats all.
Russ, and I feel comfortable calling you that since we're now on a first-name basis, that's a good start. But it's not enough. Here are some more questions we'll need answering:
-- You and your wife submitted receipts to the FEC for an $895 reimbursed check you received that investigators determined didn't have anything to do with the expenditure. How do you explain that?
-- If you look at the other three reimbursement checks paid to you that were actually investigated by the FEC, they total $4,453.28. You sent in a total of 13 receipts to substantiate these expenses. That averages to $342 apiece. If you look at the expensive places you frequented -- Jackson's Steakhouse, Cafe Bella Sera, the Pillars Hotel at New River Sound -- that would seem to cover, on average, yourself and another person or two. For instance, we know that one receipt was a $332.72 dinner at Jackson's in October 2007. It almost hits the average exactly. Can you tell us who was present at that particular campaign event? Was your wife there? Who else was entertained?
-- Once you have answered the questions regarding that particular dinner at Jackson's Steakhouse, do it for the other dozen dinners, including the ones at the Pompano casino.
-- The illegible receipts are suspicious on their face. Can you explain them?
-- What are you doing involved in your wife's campaign at all? You both promised that you wouldn't lobby the County Commission after she was elected in 2006 because it would present a conflict of interest. Obviously you would support her as a husband, but why would you be sitting at fancy dinners on her campaign expenses? Did any of these dinners involve any of your clients?
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-- Why so fancy? Most political functions are held at more modest locations, maybe a Quarterdeck. You went to some of the finest places in town. Also, please tell us the vintage and year of all wine you purchased on the campaign account.
-- In addition to the reimbursements the FEC included on the report, you received about $9,000 more from her campaign account. Can you provide us receipts for those expenditures as well?
-- Lastly, did you or Stacy ever give your close friend Ken Keechl, with whom you share a love of wine, advice on how to spend campaign money? Some of the similarities are striking.
That's enough for round two. Later we'll get to some questions about the infamous golf cart.