- Someone illegally used the RNC’s credit card to make almost $44,000 in fraudulent purchases.
- Fraudsters spent most of the money at a coffee and tea supplier that stocks high-end espresso machines.
- In public documents, the RNC initially described the thefts as “office supplies” purchases. It then revised its description when federal regulators asked questions.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Fraudsters stole almost $44,000 just before the 2020 election from the Republican National Committee — the latest in a string of thefts from prominent federal political operations.
RNC Treasurer Ronald C. Kaufman acknowledged the theft in an April 30 letter to the Federal Election Commission, an agency responsible for enforcing campaign finance transparency laws and that had questioned the committee’s accounting.
The theft, RNC spokesperson Emma Vaughn told Insider, stemmed from fraudulent charges made in September on an RNC American Express card, and “upon learning of the charges, we immediately notified AMEX and initiated a fraudulent charge dispute.”
American Express ultimately credited the RNC’s account, Vaughn said.
The thieves spent more than $35,500 of the RNC’s money at EZ Coffee & Tea, a Pennsylvania-based merchant that sells various products including high-end espresso machines, and another $8,450 at MidWest Biochar, an agricultural services company in Kansas, according to Kaufman’s April 30 letter to the FEC.
But the RNC originally disclosed the thefts differently, describing them in an October FEC report as a “credit” for “office supplies.”
Asked why, Vaughn said “these charges were still currently being researched” in October “and we categorized them as office supplies.”
She added that “upon resolution of the dispute, AMEX credited the account and we applied the credit against the original account per standard accounting practices. All of this was properly reported to the FEC.”
While the RNC’s changing description of the theft is a “bit odd,” the committee appears to have complied with federal disclosure rules by ultimately reporting the thefts for what they are, said Erin Chlopak, director of campaign finance strategy for the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center who led the FEC’s policy division from 2017 to 2018.
Representatives for EZ Coffee & Tea and MidWest Biochar could not be reached for comment. It’s unclear what, specifically, the thieves bought.
The RNC’s public descriptions of other recent financial transactions have also faced scrutiny.
In July 2020, amid some conservatives’ resistance to wearing COVID-19 face masks, the RNC reported spending $14,000 on “building maintenance.” Insider later revealed that the expenditures had nothing to do with maintaining buildings — they instead funded face mask purchases.
In February 2020, ProPublica reported that the RNC obscured the true financial compensation of RNC Chief of Staff Richard Walters, paying him a six-figure sum through a secretive shell company, Red Wave Strategies, that he established for himself.
Separately, the RNC in January reported receiving a refund for a $267.88 charge at clothing retailer Tuckernuck and a $147.43 refund for a purchase at Nordstrom.
Vaughn declined to say whether these charges were fraudulent — or if the RNC has suffered any other recent acts of theft. She also did not address whether the RNC has instituted additional security measures to defend against future fraud attempts.
Regardless, the RNC remains flush with cash, reporting more than $86.6 million in reserve as of March 31, according to its latest financial disclosure.
Millions of dollars stolen
Dozens of political committees — Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, the Republican Party of Wisconsin, notable corporate and union PACs — together experienced at least $2.7 million in theft during the 2020 election cycle, Insider previously reported.
More recently, thieves took more than $8,000 from former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s old Democratic presidential campaign committee and used them to book Airbnb properties.
ArchiPAC, the political action committee of the American Institute of Architects, in February reported more than $23,000 in “unauthorized disbursements” from its account.
An unknown person or group of people attempted to cash fraudulent paper ArchiPAC checks, spokesman Matt Tinder told Insider, but the PAC’s bank flagged the checks as suspicious and stopped the transactions.
ArchiPAC filed a report with police in Fairfax, Virginia, where the committee is based. But police didn’t pursue the matter because no money was ultimately stolen, Tinder said.
The FEC advises political committees that experience a “misappropriation” to immediately contact law enforcement. Committees should then notify the FEC and file amended disclosure reports to correct any reporting errors caused by the misappropriate.