Alexander Cuts Checks With Suit Looming

Posted October 8, 2004 at 6:10pm

With the threat of a lawsuit looming over him, party-switching Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-La.) has begun returning the $70,000 in Democratic Member contributions and promised all of his colleagues’ money would be refunded by Election Day.

Alexander, who bolted the Democratic minority without warning on Aug. 6, reiterated last week his vow to heed all requests for refunds from his one-time allies. He said he’s been slow to cut checks because he had to hire a new treasurer and campaign staff, as well as a new firm to handle his Federal Election Commission reports.

Alexander insisted he isn’t dragging his feet, but rather that he’s trying to ensure the refunds are recorded and processed correctly under the law. Alexander’s office said that as of Friday, the campaign had returned contributions to Reps. Ike Skelton (Mo.), Mike Ross (Ark.), John Lewis (Ga.) and David Price (N.C.). Refunds are going out in the order in which requests for them were received, Alexander said.

“When I said I would return the money, I couldn’t say exactly when,” Alexander said. “This has been a dramatic thing. There are many complicated issues.”

“I am making sure everything we’re doing is legal,” he added. “I don’t want to do anything that may be improper. I want to make sure all the T’s are crossed and all the I’s are dotted.”

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Robert Matsui (Calif.), who has yet to receive his money, said he’s happy to hear the checks are en route, but “it’s a shame” it has taken Alexander this long to follow through.

“I talked to a couple Members who did say they got their money back, which is a good sign,” Matsui said. “Finally, he’s decided to pay people back. It took more than two months to do it, but the money’s coming back and he’s complying with that promise he made us.”

Matsui added that had Alexander written the checks in a timely way, Democrats could have targeted the money to other candidates.

“We could have used money 30 days ago to rally the troops,” Matsui said. “Now Members are leaving and it’s harder to talk to them about who we should give this money to.”

The first stage of refunds come on the heels of Alexander’s receipt of an Oct. 1 legal “demand letter” from Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), whose attorneys set a date of Oct. 15 for a return of the Whip’s contributions. Hoyer, who is asking for $35,000 back (the money he gave and raised on behalf of Alexander over the past two cycles), said he will sue Alexander for fraud if he doesn’t get his money back by the end of the week.

“I gave him until the 15th,” Hoyer said. “He’s got another week. We’ll see what happens.”

As of Friday afternoon, Hoyer hadn’t received his money, nor had Alexander responded to the letter. He said even if he gets his money back, he believes Alexander misrepresented himself as a Democrat.

“He said he was going to return the money and in fairness it should have been immediately,” Hoyer said.

Hoyer’s lawyers are arguing Alexander committed fraud by misrepresenting his intent to remain in the Democratic Party and later saying publicly he wanted to bolt to the GOP all along.

Those allegations are biting to Alexander, who said he never violated any laws and would hope Hoyer would abandon any further legal action against him. He added that he’s always considered himself a Louisianan who voted his convictions, rather than a member of the party faithful.

“It hurts to have people say I’m committing fraud,” Alexander said. “I took contributions from Democrats and Republicans and I never forced anyone to give me money. It’s really not fair.”

This cycle, Democratic Members gave Alexander more than $70,000. Many of those lawmakers have written Alexander asking for a refund, but Hoyer is the only Member to pursue legal action against his one-time colleague.

Alexander said he’s not sure how he will respond to Hoyer, but will give him a refund for his 2004 contributions. He said any money given to him during the 2002 cycle has been spent, and he doesn’t have the financial wherewithal to return that money as well.

“I hope he doesn’t sue me,” Alexander said. “I certainly understand his disappointment over the fact I’ve changed parties, but I haven’t defrauded anybody. I wouldn’t accuse him of trying to buy my vote [with his contribution]. I’m not going to do that.”