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Published: Friday, 10/28/2005

Origins of $190,000 puzzle local party

BY JIM TANKERSLEY AND JOSHUA BOAK
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

The Lucas County Republican Party cannot say who gave it nearly $190,000 from 2003 through early 2005, when Bernadette Noe was its chairman, party officials said yesterday.

Interim party chairman Doug Haynam revealed the discrepancies in a letter to the county elections board hours before a federal grand jury indicted Mrs. Noe s husband, Tom, on charges of laundering money to President Bush s re-election campaign. He sent a copy to the Ohio Ethics Commission.

The party hasn t complied with the campaign finance reporting requirements, Mr. Haynam said. But we can t file reports without information. We ve concluded this is the best we can do with the information we have.

Mr. Haynam s disclosure could lead to criminal charges, though it s tough to say for whom.

Ohio law prohibits knowingly filing a false campaign report. Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates said the matter could be referred to her office, but elections officials had not done that as of yesterday afternoon.

Mrs. Bates said it is not clear who could be complicit, because the party treasurer may not have known he or she was filing a false report. It would really just depend on the facts of the matter, she said.

The director of the elections board, Jill Kelly, said that she would discuss the matter soon with the board and its lawyer and that the Republicans had tried very hard to cooperate.

Local GOP officials including Patrick Kriner, the party treasurer and a member of the county elections board, spent months investigating their financial history in response to a county audit request.

They found no records of donations from 2003, though bank statements show the party deposited $67,560 that year in its executive account.

Among the missing records is a list of who gave money at the party s annual Lincoln Day fund-raiser in 2003.

A 2003 campaign finance filing that named donors from that event was actually a duplicate list from the 2002 Lincoln Day dinner.

The party also can t attach names to nearly $115,000 in contributions in 2004 and about $7,000 from early 2005. It can account for all its spending in that time, Mr. Haynam said.

Party officials had hoped to file amended campaign finance reports from that time, but instead submitted informational filings to the elections board.

Mrs. Noe chaired the party from 2002 until February, when she resigned. Mr. Kriner took office that month. Mr. Haynam became interim chairman in July.

In his letter to the elections board, Mr. Haynam said his predecessors including Mrs. Noe and Cosette Woodward, the former executive director had not kept or shared complete financial records.

Buzz Roberts, a lawyer for Mrs. Noe, said the party s problematic accounting could not be attributed to his client. He blamed Ms. Woodward.

Bernadette has been urging her to cooperate with the party, he said. And apparently she has not.

Ms. Woodward could not be reached for comment.

Susan Gilmore is the local party s former treasurer and was responsible for signing the 2003 Annual and 2004 pregeneral election reports.

She said there were serious record-keeping problems that stemmed from a headquarters move and that she is cooperating fully with the efforts to rectify them.

There s nothing sinister from any of our perspectives, Ms. Gilmore said. This is what happens when you have lots of volunteer hands involved.

Mr. Haynam was not the first this month to raise questions about Lucas County GOP financing.

A Toledo area lawyer asked Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro recently to sue the party over $60,000 in loans later reclassified as donations it took from Mr. Noe, whom Mr. Petro has accused of stealing millions that the state had invested in Mr. Noe s rare coin fund.

The attorney, Ben Konop, said the donations could have originated from the state s $50 million rare-coin investment with Mr. Noe.

Mr. Petro said yesterday he will subpoena the county party s records relating to Mr. Noe s loans or donations. In a letter to Mr. Konop, the attorney general reiterated that he will not sue the party to recover the money.

I will not waste our resources by filing a frivolous lawsuit in Lucas County that legally has little chance of success when I can achieve the same result locking down the Noes assets through the pending suit here in Franklin County, Mr. Petro wrote.

Mr. Konop said the attorney general should seek an injunction immediately, before any of the loans possible remains could be spent during the closing weeks of the 2005 election.

I think this provides an opportunity for the Republican Party, frankly, to show that they are responsive to the law, he said. That they re responsive to the fact that taxpayers money was likely funneled to their party and spent for political purposes.

Mr. Haynam said it s unlikely that any of the newly discovered anonymous donations came from Mr. Noe, who made it a point to document his party giving.

He guessed most of the money came from small donors. If we could fill in the gaps, Mr. Haynam said, the answers will be very boring.

Staff writer Mike Wilkinson contributed to this story.

Contact Jim Tankersley at:tankersley@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.



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