Player of the Week: Michael Conaway
When Michael Conaway was elected to Congress from Texas in 2004, he figured he could use his background as a certified public accountant to advance the Republican cause on big-picture policy issues like the federal budget and the national debt. Little did he know then that he might end up providing a more valuable service -- unearthing a massive embezzlement case right under the party's nose.
This week the simmering scandal surrounding the National Republican Congressional Committee's missing money finally boiled over, as the House GOP campaign arm publicly revealed that its former treasurer, Christopher Ward, appears to have transferred several hundred thousand dollars out of the committee that eventually ended up in his own bank accounts.
Without Conaway's discovery of the scheme, it might still be going on today, and that makes him Capitol Briefing's Player of the Week.
Conaway is no stranger to the worlds of finance and big-league Republican politics. After growing up in Odessa, Texas, and playing on Permian High School's first state football championship squad (the program that spawned the book, movie and TV show "Friday Night Lights"), Conaway got his accounting degree, served in the Army and then went to work for the firm then known as Price Waterhouse. He later went on to serve as chief financial officer at Bush Exploration, George W. Bush's oil firm.
Elected to the House in 2004 from the 11th District in west central Texas, Conaway was picked after the 2006 election by NRCC Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) to run the campaign arm's audit committee. Before long, he started asking Ward to schedule a meeting with the outside firm that had been tapped to audit the NRCC's 2006 books. But Ward kept putting Conaway off, making the Texan suspicious.
"My expectation was that that frank meeting would take three minutes," Conaway told The Washington Post, adding that he was troubled by Ward's "passive aggressive" behavior.
And when the lawmaker saw the supposed audits Ward had produced before, he recognized them as fake.
"We're very fortunate to have Mike Conaway as chairman of our audit committee," Cole said, putting it mildly. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the previous audit committee chairman, had also pressed Ward for information over the years, but he was not a professional accountant and did not recognize the audits Ward gave him as fakes the way Conaway did.
It's not clear yet how much money the NRCC actually lost as a result of Ward's actions -- the total could end up over $1 million. But it is also clear that the number could still be growing had it not been for Conaway's actions. Now if he could only do something about that national debt.
March 14, 2008; 5:00 PM ET
Categories: Ethics and Rules , House , Player of the Week
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