Columbia (MD) Democratic Club Treasurer pushes back against non-transparency allegations and reveals what this is really all about
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 and the attacks by his acolytes on public platforms, I am not opposed to financial transparency.
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.
In email communications from the president sent to the rest of the executive board, my integrity, honesty, and competence had been called into question. He characterized my performance as “incompetent,” “suspicious,” “not transparent,” “nefarious,” and “concerning” and more recently at a public executive board meeting, "shady."
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.
Since so much manufactured suspicion was pushed out by the president and a handful of his allies, our club secretary and a past president were asked to review my financial processes, spreadsheet, 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 fantasy should earn him a laminated QAnon membership card.
Keep in mind that our balance increased by 76% since March 2020 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.
Throughout my tenure as treasurer I have paid every bill and reimbursed members accurately and on time. Nobody has ever complained about late or incorrect payments. It serves no club purpose to thrust impediments on an already efficient payment process. Note that any expenditure exceeding $100 must be approved by the membership, so it doesn't get more transparent than that.
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, which is maintained for 2 years. When a transaction is successfully made, the payer is sent an acknowledgement from PayPal.
If a person mistakenly bills the club instead of making a payment, I immediately advise that person accordingly.
I have no intention of releasing members' phone numbers and home addresses to this president. It does nothing to make the membership list more accurate or improve the voting process, the purported rationale for the president's botched and potentially defamatory recall attempt. Nor do the bylaws require the president to have access to our financial accounts.
To prove this has been Mr. Burdett's goal, the very first charge on his recall notice included, in part, "Your long time refusal to provide...access to this PayPal account..."
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 the members' phone numbers and home addresses or any other personal and private 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, former 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 firestorm 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 red herring is not about transparency as characterized by the president and his allies. To me, the issue is 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 number floating around either.
Don’t believe me? Here's how an ally of Mr. Burdett’s responded to a Facebook post on April 10:
“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 and want to protect their private information?
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.
In my opinion, Mr. Burdett's end game has been and continues to be to gain access to and ultimate control over our PayPal account and our club’s checking account under the guise of transparency. In fact, at a board meeting several months ago, he directly requested from me 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 grant him possession of 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--not a good place for a treasurer.
This financial transparency subterfuge is a deflection from the president's own divisive behavior that has led to chaos and acrimony within the club. It is weakening and splitting the party to the delight of Republican groups on social media whose members publicly cheer him on.
I have been a member of the Columbia Democratic Club for 16 years, the last 13 of which I have been a member of the Executive Board for 7 different presidents. As stated previously, for the past 7 years I have served as the club’s Treasurer working with a variety of Executive Board compositions over that time period.
It’s an office I hadn't previously sought, but my esteemed predecessor recommended I do so as she prepared to step down. I had been asked by the previous 6 presidents to work with them as treasurer and was proud to serve. It is clear that during this time I had the confidence of those presidents, the various executive boards and the general membership.
These folks entrusted me with this position, and I have done absolutely nothing that would give them pause. Furthermore, I coordinated several club elections and endorsement meetings without any candidates disputing the accuracy of the membership list. Overall, I’m not aware of any member losing sleep over the fact that I have been the club’s treasurer.
To that end, I can attest that our financial records are accurate, up-to-date and most importantly secure. My reports to the executive board and membership reflect that.
As I indicated earlier, 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 what private information is 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. It just invites abuse.
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. And that’s what I intend to do.