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Unity08 NonAnswers Questions on Financial Transparency

It’s now been 8 days since I posted a set of 11 questions to the Unity08 forum, the outfit backed by public relations executives that says it will nominate a Republican-Democratic ticket for the presidential election in 2008. I added another question a day later. Here is the complete set of 12 questions:

1. Unity08’s second quarter statement lists $18,700 (a significant portion of all donations) as having been made in the year 2002. Is this a typographical error? If it is not a typographical error, was Unity08 conceived in 2002? How does this mesh with the description of Unity08 in its May 30, 2006 press release as a “new grassroots organization” that has been “building for months,” not years?

2. The following donations are shown on the Unity08 webpage but do not appear in the 2nd or 3rd quarter IRS reports:

Thomas Beard Atlanta GA $1,000
Charles Buck Weston CT $200
Mark Cave Charlottesville VA $300
Ian Davis Chapel Hill NC $200
Thomas Delaney Saint Louis MO $200
Michael Ghiglione Spokane WA $200
Carol Guardo Fountain Hills AZ $200
Jim Jonas Denver CO $250
Hamilton Jordan Atlanta GA $5,000
Dorothy Jordan Atlanta GA $5,000
David Litt Columbus OH $500
Jack Lohman Colgate WI $200
Richard Mullen San Francisco CA $250
Sean Myers Coopersville MI $200
Dennis Nolan Anchorage AK $300
Dennis Nolan Anchorage AK $200
Joseph Parlante Bethesda MD $300
Malcolm Peabody Washington DC $250
Malcolm Philbrook Jr. Biddeford ME $200
Grant Reeder San Diego CA $200
Victoria Sant Washington DC $5,000
John Singleton Kingsport TN $200
James Stragand Bend OR $200
Lisa Sunderlin Troy MI $200
Glen Vanderhorn Brick NJ $200
Michael Wenzke Boston MA $200
Amos Wilder Chevy Chase MD $200
Julie Wright San Diego CA $1,000

What explains the discrepancy, and how is the discrepancy to be remedied?

3. On July 18, 2006, Founders Council Member Doug Bailey indicated of members of the Founders Council that “Some will have expenses reimbursed…. And a few will be providing their business services at standard rates.” Tom Collier of Steptoe and Johnson has provided legal services in his filings with the FEC, which resulted in Unity08 needing to be reclassified as a PAC, not a 527. But there is no indication in the 2nd quarter and 3rd quarter reports of any compensation or reimbursement of Collier or Steptoe and Johnson for their services. Were these services donated? If not, how much compensation or reimbursement is due?

4. The 2nd and 3rd Quarter IRS reports indicate that for over this six month period, Shane Kinkennon has been compensated $7,669.41. Is this a “standard rate” for professional public relations services? Has Mr. Kinkennon been further compensated for his work in this six-month period?

5. Has any group or person other than Unity08 compensated or reimbursed individuals for their Unity08-related work? If so, who and for how much?

6. Unity08 has commissioned a national poll with Princeton Survey Research. I cannot find any description of expenses associated with a national poll on either the 2nd quarter or 3rd quarter list of expenses. Did Unity08 pay for this poll? If so, could you clarify those expenses? If Unity08 did not pay for this poll, who did pay for the poll?

7. On October 11, Unity08 updated its financial disclosures on its website from July, when it had pledged to make disclosure updates every two weeks. As of October 11, Unity08 provided information on donations as of September 1, and pledged that “This list will be updated once a month in the spirit of greater financial transparency, which is sorely lacking in politics today.” The list has not been updated in more than two months. When will this list be updated next?

8. As of December 20, the Unity08.com website still refers to the Unity08 organization as a 527 organization, and still refers to its status as under review by the FEC. The FEC has ruled that Unity08 must classify as a PAC. There are no electronic filings with the FEC for Unity08 available for review on its website. Has Unity08 reregistered as a PAC? If so, when will piublic records for the PAC become available?

9. What is the total dollar amount of all donations — including those under $200 — received thus far by Unity08?

10. If Unity08 has a positive balance in its accounts, what is that balance? If Unity08 is in debt at this point, by how much? From whom is it obtaining loans, if it is in debt?

11. The Unity08 plan for early 2007 — that’s starting next month — reads as follows:

“In order for Unity08 to compete with a bipartisan Unity Ticket for the White House in 2008, it must be on the ballot in all 50 states. Each state has its own law, and the laws vary dramatically from state to state. But most require thousands of signatures on a petition.

Unity08 is readying its ground troops to begin securing ballot access early in 2007. We will start with only a handful of states first, recruit staff and volunteers, provide guidance and assistance, and provide tools. We’ll learn from what we do well in those states, and learn from our mistakes. And we’ll learn from what our online supporters tells us. Then we’ll incorporate those learnings into our efforts in the next state.”

What is the financial plan for Unity08 to accomplish the Unity08 political plan, given the current state of its finances?

12. Since writing the original eleven questions regarding the financial transparency to which Unity08 has committed itself, I’ve noticed another position — Anya Harris, Chief Operating Officer of Unity08. Yet there is no notice in the 2nd and 3rd quarter reports made to the IRS for Unity08 of Anya Harris (or any Chief Operating Officer) receiving compensation.

Has the Chief Operating Officer of Unity08 been compensated in any manner for her work, which includes hiring duties as well as website duties? If so, for what amount and out of what source of funds? If not, how has the Chief Operating Officer sustained herself during her period of volunteering for Unity08, and what is the source of that sustenance?

Today at noon, Anya T. Harris, Unity08’s Chief Operating Officer, gave a classic public relations nonanswer:

Jim,
Thank you for your continued interest in Unity08. We appreciate the focus that you give our movement. We are reviewing the IRS filings for accuracy and will be making amended updates as necessary. Once again, thanks for your continued interest in Unity08.

In other words, please shut up and go away. This is not the response of an organization comfortable with financial transparency. I can only guess why, but my guesses are rather colorful.

Regardless of the source of Unity08’s obstinacy, the public deserves answers to these questions for a few good reasons:

1. Unity08 itself writes that it is dedicated to “The spirit of greater financial transparency, which is sorely lacking in politics today,” and also that “Transparency is essential to the public’s trust.” Either this is a fib, in which case it is good for us to know that Unity08 actually despises financial transparency, or it was a heartfelt statement, in which case it is good for us to know that Unity08 is having trouble following through even on its sincere pledges.

2. Unity08 claims to be a “grassroots organization.” A grassroots organization is answerable to the grassroots.

3. The ability of an organization to get simple financial reporting done right is a useful gauge of the ability of an organization to run the first national online secure presidential and vice presidential nomination — which is what Unity08 tells us it will accomplish in a year’s time.

4. As a political movement with the goal of nominating a presidential candidate and a vice presidential candidate, Unity08 proposes to put itself in a position of some power. It is important for citizens to know from what sources this organization has been funded, and to whom this organization is indebted, in order to assess any possible avenues for the corruption of this organization.

At this point, I need your help, because Unity08 COO’s non-answer has made clear to me that Unity08 would rather not answer my questions. In order for the questions to be answered, therefore, they’ll have to become everybody’s questions. More people will have to ask these questions and request answers to them, in more public places.

So, if you have a blog, please post these questions on it — or your own questions in your own words.

If you don’t have a blog, please head over to the Unity08 forum where I asked these questions and give the forum a “thumbs up.” This keeps the forum, and its questions, on Unity08’s front page.

If you’re feeling really active, write a letter to the editor of USA Today, the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Boston Herald, or the Philadelphia Enquirer — all newspapers which have published glowing news reports about Unity08. Ask in your letter why Unity08 is keeping its finances decidedly nontransparent.

If we work together on this, maybe we can get some answers and have these mysteries all cleared up.

If we work together on this and still can’t get any answers, then that’s an indication of an untrustworthy political organization, unworthy of our support.

4 comments to Unity08 NonAnswers Questions on Financial Transparency

  • Alan

    Oohh, Jim, I think Ms. Harris has a very subtle sense of humor. In her latest comment, addressed to you personally, she says:

    Thank you for your support of our efforts.

    Personally I think she has a thing for you–I don’t know how you always manage to be such a hit with the ladies.

    If you look at her first post, besides thanking you THREE TIMES for your efforts in debunking her organization, she does give us the following information: they are reviewing the IRS filings for accuracy. In the second post today, she notices even more mistletoe on your shirt tail, but her groveling seems to be a bit over the top and the net effect is sarcasm. Nevertheless she also mentions reviewing the IRS filings. Also, ponder the fact that this is the first we have ever heard of her. She has apparently inherited the helm of this organization and will be charting new directions for it.

    So, reading between the lines–what she says, and more importantly what she does not say–here is what I get out of it:
    1) They are reviewing the accuracy of the IRS filings. If you recall, the checked box on the forms say they were only preliminary reports and not final reports. At some point there will be a corrected filing.
    2)Harris only mentions IRS filings. But will they file as a PAC? Oohh, that Ms. Harris is such a tease.
    3)Errors have been found in the reports. I think this is a common situation with campaigns. Info about web-based donations is captured in one place, but if someone donates by mail, it doesn’t show up in that data-base. That may be part of the reason the IRS allows for interim filings and final reports, to give them more time to reconcile all the details. But this is a mundane technical question and is merely a distraction from the main question of what special interest groups are behind Unity08.
    4)Harris does not reiterate the previous pledge of transparency. Hmmm. Meet the new boss, not the same as the old boss? Maybe the change of leadership at Unity08 also signals a change in opposition to corruption and pandering to special interests.

  • Jim

    Well, as I track it Harris has been with the organization for months at least. She’s not new.

  • simplicity

    So, Jim, what’s your sign?

  • Alan

    Well, Jim, Harris’ name shows up as the contact person in a vacancy announcement as early as the second week of October 2006, but she doesn’t start posting on the Unity08 site until December 5. After that, she posts something pretty much daily. That could explain why her compensation isn’t listed in the 2nd and 3rd quarters. But if her compensation wasn’t posted because she wasn’t on board before Q4, why doesn’t she say so instead of evading the question about her compensation? More likely, she has to wait for meetings with all the lawyers and bean-counters of whatever organization Unity08 is a front for so they will be all talking out of the same side of their mouths.

    Yes, I’m more than happy to follow your link to the Unity08 forum and click a thumbs up on the topic.

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