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RNC Chairman Steele's Newest Aide Misused Baseball Groups' Money

5 years ago
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Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele -- who really can't afford another 'holy ----" story after a GOP staffer dropped $1,900 at a lesbian-bondage themed Hollywood club and a top conservative called for an RNC donor boycott -- has hired a new "special assistant for finance."

Although described by many as a smart, gifted and glib fundraiser, Neil S. Alpert, 31, who began work on March 29, probably won't do much to burnish Steele's image as a money manager.

This is the same Neil S. Alpert who in July 2007 was ordered by the District of Columbia government to repay nearly $70,000 in unauthorized expenses and unaccounted money from a pair of local baseball groups he had chaired. He was also fined $4,000.

The 10-page order from the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance, issued after a lengthy investigation, stated Alpert used "substantial amounts" of D.C. Baseball PAC money "to defray his personal expenses" and that there were "numerous inaccuracies and omissions" in Alpert's receipts-and-expenditures report. The order also stated Alpert improperly co-mingled money from the PAC and its non-profit successor, the D.C. Baseball Association, whose bank accounts he controlled.

The Office of Campaign Finance repayment order quotes the president of the D.C. Baseball Association, Allen Madison, as saying Alpert used the funds as his "personal piggy bank."

Alpert paid $4,000 in fines in August 2007, OCF general counsel Kathy Williams told me on April 2. But he never repaid a dime of the $69,528.24 in missing or misspent money, she said, citing a "mediation agreement" with the baseball groups.

Several PAC and association board members and advisers told me they wanted the matter referred to the U.S. Attorney's Office for prosecution, but that they understood $70,000 was "too small" an amount for law enforcement to pursue. They also concluded that filing a civil suit would be too costly for the loosely organized, all-volunteer boards.

RNC spokesman Doug Heye said, "I can't comment on that" when asked on Good Friday about the 2007 repayment order and fines. But he did explain Alpert's duties: "He will be working directly with Chairman Steele. They have a long, good relationship. Neil will help raise money, find new funds for House and Senate races, and victory programs that basically pay for personnel and infrastructure."

Alpert, who all along has denied wrongdoing, told me in an April 3 e-mail that "since this was resolved favorably, I think your story will be fine."

But "favorably" may be a relative term, given Steele's ongoing challenges and the unambiguous language in the 10-page government repayment order.

Starting in 2004, Alpert chaired the D.C. Baseball PAC, which hoped to snag a major league team for Washington. By 2005, when the Nationals arrived, he also chaired the successor non-profit D.C. Baseball Association. Money raised by both groups -- approximately $100,000 according to the OCF order -- was meant to give inner-city students education and recreation opportunities.

Alarmed by Alpert's management of the groups from December 2004 to July 2005, several members sought an investigation by the OCF, which ultimately ordered Alpert to repay $37,670 in personal expenses he'd collected, and an additional $31,897 in donations that couldn't be found.

"His expenses were beyond excessive. They were grandiose," said Tom Smith, a board member of both groups, a Washington marketing consultant and a Democratic activist. "This was money that was to be directed to inner-city kids, to get the private sector to revitalize playing fields that had grown bare because the city didn't have the money to keep them up, to provide equipment, to hold an essay contest with the winners getting to go to spring training," Smith told me by phone. "Unfortunately, it doesn't take long to go through $70,000."

Before signing on with Steele, Alpert spent 31 months as the Washington National Opera's director of institutional relations, raising money from foundations, governments and corporations.

His move to the RNC "is a great loss to us," said opera board member Diane Tachmindji of Bethesda, Md. "Neil is very bright, very creative. He's a great manager, a great idea person, and he has great integrity. I have only known him since he's been at the opera."

During a brief phone chat with Alpert on April 2, his fifth day on the job, he told me he jumped from cultural fundraising to electoral finance because "I have always been a political person. It was the right move."

Alpert's resume includes a stint raising money for AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. When the baseball scandal broke, he was poised to start work at the Republican Jewish Coalition. He never did. Instead, he joined the opera.

Alpert's arrival at the RNC comes at a time when Steele is under increasing attack by party activists dismayed by his lavish spending and a continuing series of blunders. A recent story uncovered an RNC-financed outing for young donors to an L.A. nightclub featuring live, simulated scenes of lesbian sex and bondage.

Tony Perkins, who heads the influential conservative Family Research Council, has urged Republicans to stop sending money to the "completely tone-deaf" national party. Other GOP leaders -- fearful of election losses despite widespread anger at President Obama and Democratic lawmakers -- are asking the party faithful to contribute more disciplined, targeted groups such as the Republican Governors' Association or the House and Senate campaign committees.

Told of Alpert's new job with Steele, Bill Starrels, a mortgage loan officer who was involved with the two baseball groups, said simply, "On the record, they both deserve each other."

It is unclear where and when the tall, dapper Steele and the short, portly Alpert first met. But the two men share a fondness for the good life.

Alpert is a regular at Cafe Milano, Georgetown's pricey A-list Italian eatery that was the scene of his March 25 opera farewell luncheon. He also belongs to the Tai Pan Exclusive Life Style Club, which is far less racy than it might sound. Located in Washington's swank Mandarin Oriental Hotel, it caters to business people who pay between $6,000 and $9,000 to join and another $425 a month for perks that include lodging, food and a car service; use of a private lounge with a concierge, bar and meeting rooms and access to the health club, hotel PR director Erich Hosbach told me during a recent tour of the facilities.

The first time I ever saw Alpert -- on a weekday afternoon last summer -- he was lying on a poolside chaise wrapped in a towel with a cellphone pressed to his ear. He remains a Tai Pan member in good standing, Hosbach confirmed.

Alpert, who is single, lives in a $570,00 two-bedroom, two-bath condo in Georgetown bought in July 2005. According to the 2007 OCF repayment order, it was between December 2004 and July 2005 that Alpert ran up unauthorized personal expenses for such items as rent and parking fees at his former digs near the White House, restaurants and gasoline.

Alpert's Baseball PAC chairmanship started out well enough back in 2004, Smith said, because "Neil had a gift with language, he worked very hard. I don't want to take that away from him. And I'll be frank with you, the money came in too quickly and we did not set up the internal processes effectively for accountability. Having said that, we also trusted Neil. But we came to realize that trust was misplaced."
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