Columbia (MD) Democratic Club Treasurer pushes back against non-transparency allegations
By Bob Ford
Treasurer, Columbia Democratic Club
I want to set the record straight about financial transparency. Despite the gas lighting, innuendos, and demonstrably false statements made by the CDC president Jake Burdett who now describes me as "shady,"as well as the attacks by his acolytes on public platforms, I am not opposed to financial transparency. These accusations are a desperate attempt to deflect from the true reasons for the CDC’s current dysfunction by searching for a problem that doesn’t exist. #hocopolitics
I emphatically believe that our financials should always be transparent to the executive board and the members so that all interested parties have an understanding of how we are doing financially. This especially applies to those dues-paying members who provide virtually all of the club’s income.
That information is conveyed by my traditional monthly treasurer’s reports, which I present to the executive board and at general meetings. They are an accurate reflection of our bank statements and financial activity.
I maintain a spreadsheet that includes the individual’s name and hopefully the names of family members if they are provided. Included is the type of membership, the check number if that’s how he/she paid, or an indication that PayPal was used and the date posted.
Since so much manufactured suspicion was pushed out by the president and his allies, I had invited our club secretary and a past president to review my financial processes, bank statements, and PayPal account onsite, and they saw the diligence I applied in keeping accurate records. They determined everything was in order. Any concern by the president was and continues to be unjustified.
“I can report back to anyone who is interested in the matter: Bob has a very good and consistent process,” wrote Past President Sean Ford (no relation) in a letter to Shahan Rizvi, chair of the Howard County Democratic Central Committee. “The club’s finances are in good hands with him.”
There was a wild conspiracy theory recently posted on Facebook by an ally of the president who infers that the county executive is somehow part of a financial cover-up with the CDC. It said, “Just how bad are the Club's finances and who else is implicated?" That should earn him a laminated QAnon membership card.
Keep in mind that our balance increased by 76% since last March and more than doubled (120%) since November. It is at the highest level in our club’s history. And since I became the club's treasurer 7 years ago, our balance has gone up over 1,550%. That’s how bad the club’s finances are.
Since March of last year and because of the pandemic, which prevented in-person meetings and our annual holiday party, I’ve had to write a total of just 7 checks. On the monthly treasurer’s reports I indicate the amount of the check, the payee and its purpose. Anyone receiving this report sees this. Nothing is hidden.
The PayPal account was created a few years ago as a convenience to our club members as a means of paying dues. Since the club does not have a Taxpayer Identification Number or an Employer Identification Number, I had to furnish my own Social Security Number in order for PayPal to establish the account. I regularly transfer the accumulated amounts in PayPal to our checking account. Again, this is clearly indicated on my treasurer's reports. Nothing is hidden
Each member’s transaction on PayPal, which the president constantly refers to as "receipts," are required by PayPal to include the name of the person, the home address, the email address and the telephone number among other information, which is maintained for 2 years.
I have no intention of releasing such personal information to this president as it does nothing to make the membership list more accurate or improve the voting process.
My refusal to grant him access to this account and any other financial account is based on one factor: I simply do not trust him to safeguard this information. And I certainly don’t trust him with my Social Security number at his disposal.
The president’s track record does not alleviate my concerns.
According to Matthew Molyett, a former CDC vice president, executive board member, and a candidate for Board of Education in 2020 for whom our current president was the campaign manager, “Jake Burdett failed to secure the campaign data when he created it. The file was originally seeded by exporting the Mail Chimp mailing list without prior discussion.”
It should be pointed out that this database was exposed to a breach where personal information was unprotected causing a major backlash on social media. In my view that failure contributed to Mr. Molyett’s defeat. To be clear, he is not saying that Mr. Burdett caused the breach but that he did not safeguard the data.
This entire controversy is not about transparency as characterized by the president and his allies. To me, it's really about security and privacy.
We witnessed the backlash to the April 8 Zoom meeting debacle whereby individuals’ email addresses were captured without their knowledge by an outside organization as a prerequisite to enter the meeting .
People want to protect their privacy as they should. I am quite certain that folks do not want their home address and telephone numbers floating around either.
Don’t believe me? Ask the president’s ally Hiruy Hadgu who on April 10 responded to a post on Facebook:
“I know that there is a concerted effort by some irresponsible people in the party to attempt to intimidate me by disclosing where I live and threatening the safety of my family.”
"Disclosing where I live," he says. Isn't it likely that others may have similar fears and concerns?
I see myself as duty-bound to preserve the private information of our members, not to mention my own Social Security Number, which as I stated before, is attached to our PayPal account.
Make no mistake, the president’s ultimate goal has been and continues to be to gain access to our PayPal account and our club’s checking account. At a board meeting several months ago, the president directly requested access to our PayPal account to include log-in code and password.
His demand (later withdrawn) that I provide my signature to him raised additional questions. I asked representatives from the financial, legal and law enforcement communities to determine if there is any legitimate justification for that request. None of these professionals was able to identify one. There is no way I would let him have my signature.
The notion that this president could gain control over our financial accounts similar to his recent commandeering of our social media and communications platforms should send up red flags. To this day, the secretary does not have the full access to Mail Chimp and other communication tools, which are preventing her from fully doing her job. Undoubtedly, I’d be locked out, too, from our financial accounts.
This financial transparency subterfuge is all about the president’s desire to acquire access and ultimately control our financial accounts under the guise of transparency. It’s a deflection from his own performance that has led to chaos and divisiveness within the club, which is weakening the party.
I assure you that our financial records are accurate, up-to-date and most importantly secure. My reports to the executive board and membership reflect that.
As stated previously, our club secretary and past president conducted a review of my records and found that they are in order. Notably, these individuals viewed the general transaction history on PayPal but only opened up their own transaction--not anyone else's-- so they can see the private information contained in the "receipts."
Financial transparency is essential but not at the expense of security and privacy. The release of private information does not promote accurate membership lists or improve the voting process. My fiduciary responsibilities as treasurer, as I see it, are to keep accurate records, safeguard the club’s assets and protect the private information of its members. Unless the bylaws are revised that would direct me otherwise, that’s what I intend to do.