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Wes Benedict responds to LNC audit controversy

For background see:

2012 Libertarian Audit Committee: Out of Control?

LNC passes policy manual changes regarding audit related issues

In the comments of the first post, LPHQ Executive Director Wes Benedict offers the following defense of LPHQ staff against allegations of improprities stemming from the audit:


Nice to see this on IPR because now staff gets to see the audit committee reports and defend itself. A lot of this is grossly misleading–selective facts released which give the reader a false impression of what actually happened. I wasn’t on staff in 2012 which is the period for the audit report above. The safest thing for my own job is for me to sit still and be quiet. So I’ll continue.

It’s a shame we have to waste so much time on b.s. like this. My first day after arriving in D.C. in August, I spent most of it — you guessed it – working on a staff response to the Audit Committee. I felt like–what a waste of time. Why am I here wasting time when I was getting good work done before while working for a PAC?

Now I’m glad to be here because I will not let the rest of our staff get thrown under the bus and smeared with false or misleading implications without at least someone standing up to defend them. I might end up getting smeared and or fired too, but at least I’ve seen more of the facts and get the chance to give my version.

For the record, I recruited Tim Hagan to run for Treasurer (while I wasn’t on staff) and he defeated both Joe Buchman and Aaron Starr (George Phillies dropped out of the race).

Staff processes thousands of transactions and maintains databases with a half-million contacts. I sign several checks a day to pay LNC bills. The LNC constantly comes up with new projects and demands on staff time. More vendors, more contracts, more projects. So it is true that plenty of i’s and t’s don’t get dotted and crossed completely. But the LNC wants to implement things like a new membership plan that changes all the membership levels and throws things more towards chaos. If it ain’t broke, break it.

I could go through the Policy Manual and find dozens of things both staff and the LNC fail to comply with.

Try auditing the LNCC. I once asked Aaron Starr for a copy of the LNCC bylaws–not the financials–just the bylaws–and he wouldn’t give me a copy. Now here he is demanding a copy of every single email between Carla Howell and Michael Cloud. It’s gross. I proposed alternatives to verifying which work was completed that did not involve giving every email to Aaron Starr, because giving all those emails to Aaron Starr might be a violation of the harassment section of the Policy Manual and it was unnecessary.

Joe, I miss you being on the audit committee. At least you had a some sense of fairness about you. Plus, as a UFO enthusiast, we counted on you to see things others might miss.

[…]Feel free to post [this as an article]. But I don’t think you need my permission anyway.

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34 Comments

  1. paulie paulie November 30, 2013

    Comment bump…

  2. paulie paulie November 24, 2013

    With respect to personal emails, I seem to recall that employees have no expectation of privacy on using work machines.

    Even if this is true, the work was not necessarily done on office computers. Carla may have her own laptop, and she may have done some of the work at home, for exmple.

  3. David Colborne David Colborne November 24, 2013

    With respect to personal emails, I seem to recall that employees have no expectations of privacy on using work machines

    It depends. Legally, that’s generally correct, especially in an environment regulated by Sarbannes-Oxley or something similar that requires a retention period of all electronic communications. The LP, however, is not such an environment unless the FEC dictates otherwise; consequently, personnel may not necessarily expect their communications to be monitored unless it’s expressly indicated as such in their employee handbooks or the Policy Manual. If that indicator isn’t located anywhere, things might get more complicated, depending on what “rights” DC gives employees. The lowered expectation of privacy also doesn’t grant the employer the ability to log into an employee’s personal account, so if an employee was using work equipment to access personal resources, you can note that such access occurred, but you don’t get to log into their stuff and find out what they did.

    Also note that Libertarians tend to get rather prickly about electronic privacy. It wouldn’t shock me in the slightest if our email system was expressly designed to destroy server-side records upon receipt to ensure that e-discovery could never be effectively served.

    Additionally, the Audit Committee can’t subpoena anyone. It might be tempting to ask for “all communications”, but that doesn’t mean Carla or Michael are legally required to hand any data over, especially if they don’t trust one of the committee member’s motives.

    Finally, in defense of the staff, finding people qualified for the work the LP asks them to perform is clearly an issue as it is. When you factor in the necessarily lower pay for the same work compared to more successful PACs and parties, the transient nature of employment with any political organization (there’s a lot of churn every couple of years whenever the new bosses device to “clean house” and replace the previous regime’s friends with their friends), and the vagarities of working under an elected board of mixed competency and qualifications, it’s a wonder we can occasionally hire or contract with people that can find the power button on their work PCs and use a word processor.

  4. George Phillies George Phillies November 24, 2013

    With respect to personal emails, I seem to recall that employees have no expectation of privacy on using work machines.

  5. George Phillies George Phillies November 24, 2013

    Joe,

    I suppose you could have asked for ‘all records of communications with the vendor’ but that is more like the precision needed if you are an attorney dealing with a hostile information source. Sorry matters did not work better.

    George

  6. George Phillies George Phillies November 24, 2013

    Of course, good soldier Schweik would not dream of asking if the request should be expanded
    to match the intent. That’s a literary reference, though I have never heard of an English translation. I am told the original is extremely funny.

    Some readers may wonder what other requests were accurately interpreted with the outcome of frustrating the work of the National Committee. There are large numbers of unemployed people in the United States; some of them might be up to helping the staff to avoid this outcome if hired as an interpreter.

    How can an email record be “unreliable”? All readers familiar with email software that does not log each message should speak up.

  7. Steve M Steve M November 24, 2013

    This is an interesting observation:

    “The only option left was to review the work product which had been sent by email (not by US Post, not by FAX, or we would have asked for those). After the email record proved to be not fully reliable, we were told that the work product had, in fact, occurred during telephonic communication where a staff member, in essence, took dictation and/or read text authored in DC, to the vendor (Cloud) out of state, and got his input over the phone, while typing the corrections in the DC LP office.”

    If I was helping to write a document over the phone, I would still expect a copy to be sent to me probably via email (or other file transfer protocol) so that I could review the final document. Being not perfect, I am sure that I would send an edited copy back. There should be a record.

    As far as Nevada goes. The regime has changed but that in itself doesn’t equate to straightening things out. As the Who song goes…. Meet the New Boss….. the proof will be in the results over the next couple of election cycles. I hope the new Bosses are successful.

  8. David Colborne David Colborne November 24, 2013

    Let me think about that for a sec…

    http://i.imgur.com/3CFcHZU.gif

    Kidding aside, we’re just finally straightening Nevada out. Let me enjoy the moment before I go crotch-deep into National’s myriad issues. *grin*

  9. Joseph Buchman Joseph Buchman November 24, 2013

    David Colborne @ November 24, 2013 at 12:48 am,

    I agree. Based on your post, you’d be a great addition to the Audit Committee.

    Joe

  10. David Colborne David Colborne November 24, 2013

    I asked that question too. It seemed to be a relatively modest request to have whoever the server master is at the LP National office to 1) Search for all emails from Mr. Cloud to the ED and then 2) screen for those with work product attached, and then 3) forward those to us.

    Speaking as an IT Manager, it’s an extremely modest request with most email systems (especially Microsoft Exchange). It gets a little more complicated in a Google Apps environment since Google forbids administrative access of mailboxes – in that scenario, you have to reset the user’s password, log in as the user, and then perform any searches from there. Given that Carla’s a current employee, I can see why that might get a little complex, assuming such a system is in place. Even then, though, resetting the password to facilitate controlled access isn’t difficult.

    As for the phone dictation explanation, I’m not buying it. If I’m paying $38,000 for something, you better damn well believe I expect that in the form of a verifiable deliverable. If the vendor is “dictating” to a staff member, I’d want the staff member’s time deducted from the vendor’s invoice – or, better yet, I’d want the vendor reciprocally invoiced for the staff member’s time. Granted, that’s not in scope of an audit, but it’s definitely something that should be either in the Policy Manual or in /dev/commonsense.

  11. Joseph Buchman Joseph Buchman November 24, 2013

    One other point above, we were provided with some work product in the form of MS Word files allegedly authored by the vendor, but containing the name of a staff member as the author in the meta-data inside MS Word (yes, we looked).

    AFTER that we were given the telephonic mutual authorship/editing explanation.

    A reasonable one, but one we did not get upfront.

  12. Joseph Buchman Joseph Buchman November 24, 2013

    David Colborne @ November 24, 2013 at 12:15 am

    >>Why were invoices being edited upon receipt? << They were edited months later if I remember correctly -- a belated, perhaps innocent but very flawed attempt to document what had been paid for and why well after the fact. >>Why was the Audit Committee tasked with reading staff email<< We asked. I was surprised the request was granted. And we only asked in the absence of the "detailed invoice" that was promised, but never delivered (at least not at the time; as above there was an attempt, apparently, at a reconstruction months later). The reason we asked was to attempt to verify the work product of a vendor where no prior contract had been (apparently) reviewed by counsel and/or explicated the terms fully. The only option left was to review the work product which had been sent by email (not by US Post, not by FAX, or we would have asked for those). After the email record proved to be not fully reliable, we were told that the work product had, in fact, occurred during telephonic communication where a staff member, in essence, took dictation and/or read text authored in DC, to the vendor (Cloud) out of state, and got his input over the phone, while typing the corrections in the DC LP office. In essence, there was no documentation and no detailed receipt for at least some of what had been paid for. >>why was it impossible to not recover untouched emails from the email system?<< I asked that question too. It seemed to be a relatively modest request to have whoever the server master is at the LP National office to 1) Search for all emails from Mr. Cloud to the ED and then 2) screen for those with work product attached, and then 3) forward those to us. We were not, or at least I certainly was not, interested in reading any personal emails. Subsequent to that we were offered the telephone explanation above; and confronted with the possibility that some work product was sent by the vendor to some email address other than @lp.org (namely personal ones, for which no one in the office would have had easy access, other than the recipient.) In sort, the lack of a clear written, reviewed and approved contract for the work which was to have been done, prior to its being performed; and the utter lack of any contemporaneous detailed invoices (despite the realization that they were needed memorialized in emails as "I'll send the detailed invoice later" -- which never happened (at least not prior to our inquiry) caused a lot of delays, at best. IMO the second payment should surely never have gone out without providing the detailed invoice promised for which a first payment had already been made. That aside, it would have also helped to have declined the request for the prior payment until the detailed invoice had been provided, reviewed, verified, etc. This isn't some obscure part of the Policy Manual that some over-busy person missed; IMO it's Accounting 101, or even household check-keeping 100. Hope that helps, Joe

  13. David Colborne David Colborne November 24, 2013

    Having said all that, I’ll note that, if 10% of the Audit Committee’s report is even faintly accurate, something went horribly wrong. Seriously, why is the LNC entering into $38,000 contracts to write the same fundraising letter over and over again? Why was Carla offered thousands of dollars in moving expenses to move 200 miles? Why were invoices being edited upon receipt? Why was the Audit Committee tasked with reading staff email, and why was it impossible to not recover untouched emails from the email system?

    There is so much wrong with this story that it defies imagination.

  14. David Colborne David Colborne November 24, 2013

    Having worked with Tim in other committees, I know that he sends emails sparingly and carefully. If something was coming across his desk that required attention, he’d either bring it up during a meeting or bring it up personally with the Chair or some other knowledgeable individual.

    Consequently, just because he’s not saying anything on an email list that everybody and their mother knows is getting “reflected”, that doesn’t mean he’s not doing his job. It might just mean that he has enough discretion to handle sensitive financial issues more delicately.

  15. George Phillies George Phillies November 23, 2013

    Columbo,

    Good points are worth repeating from different perspectives. But thanks for your compliments.
    Having said that, recall that the people who supported Barr 2008 from the stage largely went away. Perhaps there is a lesson for the future.

    Your points at 10:42 on 11/23 [see, there is numbering] are also excellent.

    George

  16. Columbo Columbo November 23, 2013

    Just one more thing… Never mind. George Phillies already said it. Good points, sir!

  17. Columbo Columbo November 23, 2013

    Just one more thing…

    I remember reading a thread on IPR last year about how Michael Cloud and his friends cheated to get him elected to the LNC by making other convention speakers agree not to run for office, but not making Michael agree to that. Then they gave him the best convention speaking spots so he could get in good with the delegates. I guess we now know why getting elected was so important to him. With Carla Howell in the office, he smelled da money.

  18. Joseph Buchman Joseph Buchman November 23, 2013

    Now digging up the name of the neighbor who helped her move (and got paid for it) . . . that’s pure Starr (and really well done, IMO).

    BTW: I do not mean to imply there was ANYTHING WRONG in this.

    But it is worth asking about, and that IS, IMO, the function of an AUDIT.

    I have ZERO problem with the staff/Wes offering an explanation (I’d not call it a defense, nor would I call anything in that report an accusation).

    There were questions raised. They deserve answers. Both should be, IMO, transparent.

    If we went to nit-picking, I apologize. I was part of the committee that did that, but in some cases, if not ALL, Aaron’s apparent initial nit unravelled into a significant mess.

    If we seemed to offer unfair accusations, again I apologize. We worked for a Just-The-Facts/Dragnet report.

    In fact if Aaron Starr Starred in Dragnet, it might sound something like this:

    Joe

  19. George Phillies George Phillies November 23, 2013

    The cleanup needs to include the LNC members who should have noticed these items and did not.

  20. Columbo Columbo November 23, 2013

    Just one more thing…

    Everybody makes a mistake once in a while, but to have this many so called mistakes that lead to so much undeserved money in peoples pockets, that’s not a mistake. That’s either incompetence, or its a plan. Working hard at incompetence still gets you fired in the real world.

  21. Joseph Buchman Joseph Buchman November 23, 2013

    Columbo @ November 23, 2013 at 10:42 pm,

    >>doesn’t like that it was Aaron Starr that discovered it?<< Some of this was so obvious that even Brett and I noticed it. Now digging up the name of the neighbor who helped her move (and got paid for it) . . . that's pure Starr (and really well done, IMO). 🙂 joe

  22. Columbo Columbo November 23, 2013

    Just one more thing…

    The excuse Wes offers is that his people work hard, so it is ok? That’s what all employees are supposed to do. Sounds like they’re working hard at draining the bank account.

  23. Columbo Columbo November 23, 2013

    What exactly is it that Wes Benedict is defending here?

    1. That Michael Cloud is worth $400 an hour for the work he did, and he’s worth another $10,000 for work he didn’t do?

    2. The fact that Carla Howell wrongfully pocketed thousands of dollars of party members money? Even Carla admitted that she owes money back. Would YOU just forget that you had thousands of dollars of other peoples money in your bank account? Would you just forget that you used party funds for your rental deposit? What is defensable about that?

    3. That Robert Kraus who apparently does the accounting covered up for Carla in the way he entered the data in the accounting system?

    Is Wes Benedict really going to just look the other way while his employees line their own pockets and the pockets of their friends just because he doesn’t like that it was Aaron Starr that discovered it?

  24. George Phillies George Phillies November 23, 2013

    Mr Benedict complains about wasting staff time. We appear to have had, or perhaps not, $38,000+ out the door without a contract, and Mr Benedict’s pet Treasurer candidate seems not to have noticed there were any issues. The Audit inquiry raises questions about the invoicing on the contracts, and Mr Benedict’s Treasurer seems not to have noticed, or so the Interim Report implies. We can, after all, thanks to Starchild, read LNC-Discuss, and we seem to miss the Treasurer discussing basic fiscal control issues.

    “I could go through the Policy Manual and find dozens of things both staff and the LNC fail to comply with.”

    Let me urge Benedict to do so. Soon. If staff is reporting to him, it is his task to do what they have been directed to do.

    Of course, it is possible that the interim report is wrong, though my sources on the LNC indicate that no such defense was being offered. In that case, in my opinion LNC members need to start looking at motions to suspend the responsible officers. Their mileages may vary.

  25. George Phillies George Phillies November 23, 2013

    It may be discussed in executive session. That requires putting it on the agenda and an affirmative vote for executive session. Of course, it may be as amusing as the last one, in which one LNC member kept referring to the topic of discussion as “the LNC member” until another LNC member said ‘look, we know you’re talking about!@#$%^&*, why not say so’ etc.

  26. Stewart Flood Stewart Flood November 23, 2013

    I’m half joking of course. In general, you don’t “name names”, but in this case the subject will be well known in advance by anyone who has interest in following the meeting.

    I was present during quite a number of executive sessions over the three terms I spent on the LNC. I do not envy you having to be present during this discussion. Regardless of the outcome, reputations will be tarnished — perhaps justifiably and perhaps not.

  27. paulie paulie November 23, 2013

    Sorry. I thought the general subject is allowed to be named just not the details.

  28. Stewart Flood Stewart Flood November 23, 2013

    Ummm…you’re not supposed to mention what/who is going to be discussed in executive session. 🙂

    I believe the correct way the motion to go into executive session will be placed will be something like “…move to go into executive session to discuss vendor contracts and employee related human resource issues…”

  29. paulie paulie November 23, 2013

    Yes, it will be discussed in executive session. There may or may not be subsequent discussion in open session. There may be more released as a result of that discussion, but don’t know. The meeting is in two weeks; I included a link to the details in one of my posts today.

  30. Jill Pyeatt Jill Pyeatt November 23, 2013

    Do you know what the status is now? Will this be discussed at the meeting next weekend?

  31. Joseph Buchman Joseph Buchman November 23, 2013

    Jill and all,

    For what it’s worth I felt I was forewarned aplenty and vigilant for that kind of bias on the part of the Audit Committee. I found no a hint of it.

    That said, I should disclose my own bias. I first met Michael Cloud when he was Michael Emerling. I’ve heard disparaging stories about his womanizing from mutual friends (or in Michael’s case former friends) since at least the late 1970s/very early 1980s. I tried not to let that past bias on my part affect my service on the Audit Committee, if anything I feel I overcompensated for it.

    As a matter of Principle I do not hold people in the messy vat of their past mistakes/misdeeds (at least not where they have made amends) and I expect others, especially friends, not to do that to me.

    I don’t know, and wasn’t involved in that past of Aaron’s, but I can say unequivocally and without hesitation or mental reservation, that what we dug up (what mostly Aaron dug up) stinks.

    If there is a bias in the Audit Committee’s work this past year, it could be in the area of things Aaron/we ignored; I’m not aware of any areas we failed to examine carefully, but it’s possible others are. There is/was no bias, I think, in things we did expose.

    That said, unless you have photos of the two of you together than can be verified as not-having-been-Photoshopped, I still don’t believe you and Aaron go back 25 years!

    🙂

    Joe

  32. Jake Porter Jake Porter November 23, 2013

    It is things like this that make me happy to no longer serve as an Alternate to the LNC, but this is certainly something to look into.

  33. Jill Pyeatt Jill Pyeatt November 23, 2013

    I will say that I had the 25-page report for a week and a half and was reluctant to post it here for one reason only: the motives of Aaron Starr. It seems to me there was an incident a few years ago where Starr refused to answer questions and/or provide proper documentation that was serious enough that an At-Large rep left the party over the resulting harrassment, and an activist fairly well known here at IPR felt the need to involve the SEC. So, the irony of Aaron’s strident indignity of this that Wes Benedict alludes to definitely was part of my whole picture of this mess.

    Let’s all remember that Aaron was very loudly and unceremoniously NOT reelected to the LNC, so he just may have an ax or two to grind.

    Now, It’s no secret that I’ve know Aaron more than 25 years and I wouldn’t have known about the Libertarian Party if it were not for him, so if he’s reading this–nothing personal, Aaron. Things have sure changed in those 25 years, though.

    Having said that, the fact that Carla gave Michael Cloud almost $39,000 without proper documentation is quite disturbing.

  34. Joseph Buchman Joseph Buchman November 23, 2013

    Wes,

    >>Joe, I miss you being on the audit committee. At least you had a some sense of fairness about you. Plus, as a UFO enthusiast, we counted on you to see things others might miss.<<< (This is edited slightly from the original in the comments to the "Out of Control" post). I miss being on the Audit Oversight Committee as well. What I don't miss is being on a committee tasked with reviewing all the emails between Carla and Cloud or having to deal with the mess created when basic policies and accounting processes aren't followed. Somewhere there's a disconnect there. It's unfair, IMO, to lay that all on Aaron or to personalize this as you and others have done. Nor would it be fair of Aaron or others to tweak the audit, or extend the Audit Committee's work for political purposes. IMO it was fine of the Audit Committee Chair to ask for detailed records, Brett surely had the authority as an LNC member to ask for them regardless; but what was missing was some clear boundary for our work, or the implementation of that. I admire your defense of your staff; I did not know until today that you had not been given a copy of the Audit Committee's Second Interim report, your defense and theirs should surely be part of the audit process as well, IMO. (FYI I did ask to be included in the confidential Audit-discuss listserve created by the LNC, and that request was denied.) For those curious about my involvement in the UFO issue which you have somehow seen fit to raise here, or for those who may find that remark as disparaging, I'm not at all embarrassed. It's surely damaged my credibility in Higher Education far more than in Libertarian circles. One of the reasons I was able to be in DC and support the 2012 Audit Fieldwork is that I had just served as the Moderator for the week-long Citizens Hearing on UFO Disclosure with former US Senator Mike Gravel (who identified himself as a Libertarian in those Hearings), former 10-term US Representatives Roscoe Bartlett and Lynn Woolsey, as well as former Representatives Darlene Hooley, Carolyn Kilpatrick and Merrill Cook. If fact I contacted, recruited and contracted with five of those six for their service on that committee. Witnesses included a former head of the FAA, a moon-walking Apollo astronaut (Dr. Edgar Mitchell (PhD from MIT), a former Canadian Minister of Defense, military officials from 10 nations, a former Congressman from Brazil, Dr. Jesse Marcel Jr . . . My idea, at least, of a group of honest, courageous, heroic folk. Of course when I ran for the US Congress (Utah's First District, 2008) and called for legislation to protect whistle blowers; and then open hearings on "waste, fraud, criminal-activity and the UFO issue" I was attacked by the likes of Steve Gordon, who called the chair of the LNC to have me removed as a candidate, among other things. So Wes, your comment that I apparently have seen things in the Audit that other's don't or haven't seen is hurtful at best; so let me suggest again that the LP would be best served by taking the issues raised in our Second Interim Report, if not in the Citizen Hearing on UFO Disclosure as well, far more seriously. The idea that we're alone in the Universe is about as absurd to me as the idea Mr. Cloud earned his $38,000, or that it costs $20,000 to move to DC from . . . where, Kolob? (There, I just made IPR a lot less dull, at least for our readers on Kolob.) http://citizenhearing.org/

    Joe

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