I was on the phone with Darryl from Hominid Views and we were looking over state Sen. Luke Esser’s PDC filings, when a curious anomaly jumped out at us: Esser’s campaign seemed to have incurred an inordinately large expense in “bank charges.”
So we looked at Esser’s expenditure reports in greater detail, and this is what we found for “bank charges” over the life of his current campaign:
|BANK OF AMERICA||06/06/2005||$16.00||BANK CHARGE|
|BANK OF AMERICA||11/07/2005||$1,471.17||BANK CHARGE|
|BANK OF AMERICA||11/07/2005||$5.00||BANK CHARGE|
|BANK OF AMERICA||05/24/2006||$100.00||BANK CHARGE|
|BANK OF AMERICA||05/24/2006||$5.00||BANK CHARGE|
|BANK OF AMERICA||05/30/2006||$16.75||BANK CHARGE|
|AMERICAN EXPRESS||06/19/2006||$32.50||BANK CHARGE|
|AMERICAN EXPRESS||06/26/2006||$17.55||BANK CHARGE|
|BANK OF AMERICA||07/03/2006||$446.04||BANK CHARGE|
|AMERICAN EXPRESS||07/11/2006||$9.75||BANK CHARGE|
|AMERICAN EXPRESS||07/26/2006||$1.63||BANK CHARGE|
|BANK OF AMERICA||08/01/2006||$43.34||BANK CHARGE|
|BANK OF AMERICA||09/01/2006||$48.40||BANK CHARGE|
|COMPLETE CAMPAIGNS||09/22/2006||$52.50||BANK CHARGE|
|BANK OF AMERICA||10/02/2006||$38.54||BANK CHARGE|
|COMPLETE CAMPAIGNS||10/03/2006||$7.50||BANK CHARGE|
|COMPLETE CAMPAIGNS||10/11/2006||$15.00||BANK CHARGE|
|COMPLETE CAMPAIGNS||10/20/2006||$39.38||BANK CHARGE|
|COMPLETE CAMPAIGNS||10/27/2006||$30.00||BANK CHARGE|
|BANK OF AMERICA||10/30/2006||$4.25||BANK CHARGE|
|Total Expenditures for this report: $2,400.30|
Hmm. Notice something unusual? We sure did.
Over the past two years Esser reports bank charges of between $4.25 and $52.50, except in November of 2005 and July of 2006 when he reports astonishingly high charges of $1,471.17 and $446.04 respectively.
For the most part the report makes sense. It seems quite clear that the charges you see are either monthly service fees or transaction costs incurred taking contributions via credit card. But the $1,471.17 charge in particular is almost entirely inexplicable as a normal cost of doing business.
In fact, assuming this expense was properly reported as a “bank charge,” the only thing I can imagine that could possibly account for such high costs would be interest and penalties on an outstanding credit card or line of credit debt. And yet during this same period Esser’s campaign reports no liabilities whatsoever.
Now, I don’t actually like to engage in speculation, but I’m more than willing to do so when given no other choice, and since Esser’s campaign has not returned my emails or phone calls, here’s my guess at one plausible explanation: the $1,471.17 charge represents interest and penalties incurred on a campaign credit card that Esser used to cover his personal obligations. Esser eventually paid off the principal, but billed the finance charges and penalties to the campaign.
And keep in mind that this hypothesis was not developed in a vacuum. As was widely reported, Esser recently avoided an October court date with credit-card giant MBNA (a division of Bank of America) by paying off an outstanding $6,556.15 debt.
Darryl did manage to reach Esser’s campaign manager, and while he refused to comment on these specific charges, he suggested that perhaps these were credit card transaction fees.
Uh-huh. But that’s not possible. Even at a usurious 4 percent transaction fee rate, $1,471.17 would represent over $36,000 worth of contributions, whereas Esser only raised a few thousand dollars during this period, mostly in the form of big checks from PACs. And besides, Bank of America charges a monthly fee for “merchant services” regardless of the number of credit card transactions — the lack of other bank charges prior to May of 2006 strongly suggests that Esser’s campaign was not equipped to accept contributions via credit card at that time.
Of course there are other possible explanations — perhaps the $1,471.17 represents wire-transfer fees on illegal drug-money Esser was laundering through his campaign? Or perhaps Esser merely ordered some really expensive checks. But again, assuming this expenditure was correctly reported as a “bank charge” (and Esser actually amended the return on June 8, so you know they’ve reviewed it,) I still think that my hypothesis is the most plausible.
Darryl is scheduled to meet with Esser’s campaign manager Monday morning, and he will be given every opportunity explain these unusual bank charges. I suppose I could have waited to post until then, but that would just reward the campaign for delaying their response until the day before the election, when it would be too late for other members of the media to follow up.
So there you have it. If the Esser campaign can explain these bank charges, they know how to get ahold of me, and I suggest they do so now. Otherwise, I’ll just continue to speculate until they provide evidence to the contrary.
Turns out, the expenditure wasn’t correctly reported as a “bank charge.” It was a check he had deposited in his account that didn’t clear. Darryl has the details.