Eager for a political career, Andy Hooser came to Bowling Green State University hoping to experience the grit of a campaign.
Now he knows the grime.
The lanky freshman joined the College Republicans, becoming their secretary. He volunteered to help the congressional run of state Sen. Steve Buehrer (R., Delta) because the legislator s stated principles impressed him.
But just months into his first college semester, Mr. Hooser wonders if he was improperly used to coordinate activities between the Buehrer campaign and the Club for Growth, a Washington-based political action committee heavily invested in the 5th District Republican primary.
With contact information provided by the Buehrer campaign, Mr. Hooser sent records about rival candidate state Rep. Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green) to a Club for Growth consultant.
If a PAC devotes more than $5,000 to a particular campaign, federal election law forbids the committee from directly coordinating its message and materials with the candidate.
The Latta campaign plans to request an investigation by the Federal Elections Commission.
But the Club for Growth and the Buehrer campaign said they followed regulations and no coordination between their organizations occurred.
Now when I help out, I need to watch out in case there s anything weird going on, said Mr. Hooser, 19, who has since switched his loyalties to Mr. Latta.
The possibility of an FEC investigation is the latest twist in a brutal race tainted by hostile ads and aggressive tactics that already have led to hearings by the Ohio Elections Commission.
By selectively dissecting each other s records, Mr. Buehrer and Mr. Latta are battling over who is more committed to lowering taxes, limiting government, and upholding conservative values. An FEC inquiry might cause the battle to spill past the Nov. 6 primary election.
A former FEC lawyer said the incident with Mr. Hooser may lead to suspicions, but the complexities of establishing the definition of coordination makes proving a case difficult.
It s complicated because it s been subject to court challenges and in some ways unresolved, said Allison Hayward, who is now a law school professor at George Mason University in Virginia.
What remains straightforward is the influential advantage the Club for Growth bestowed on Mr. Buehrer after screening both candidates. It has spent $266,024 on his behalf, mainly on ads attacking Mr. Latta for a 2003 state budget vote that temporarily increased the state sales tax.
Jim Banks, the Buehrer campaign manager, denies that any violation occurred because he gave Mr. Hooser the consultant s phone number before the Club for Growth officially announced its endorsement.
Before they endorsed us, they asked me if there was a student at Bowling Green who could help get them information, Mr. Banks said. The only thing I did was pass his name and phone number on to them.
Cell phone records show that Mr. Banks called Mr. Hooser about the consultant at 4:29 p.m. on Oct. 1. Mr. Hooser phoned Chris Baker, the Arizona-based consultant, two minutes later. The Club for Growth issued a press release endorsing Mr. Buehrer the next day.
A lawyer for the Buehrer campaign, Donald Brey, said forwarding contact information does not meet the legal standards for coordination.
On Oct. 3, Mr. Hooser faxed Mr. Baker, the consultant, tax records from Mr. Latta s tenure as Wood County commissioner.
If you need any other info, let me know. I think this is all you were looking for. Thanks and Blessings, reads the note that was scrawled on the cover sheet of the fax.
Mr. Baker initially promised a $100 payment for the research, but Mr. Hooser said the terms of their arrangement changed.
After I got the information, he told me he d pay me what it s worth, Mr. Hooser said.
Mr. Baker has received at least $267,543 from the Club for Growth since 2004, according to IRS filings. The last recorded payment was on Jan. 31.
Slightly more than two weeks after he retrieved the tax records, Mr. Hooser had not received a check. He e-mailed Mr. Banks, the Buehrer campaign manager.
The Oct. 19 e-mail explained that Mr. Hooser had affixed his name to letters to the editor written by and given to him by the Buehrer campaign, and that he took the letters to local newspapers.
Mr. Hooser then asked for Mr. Baker s e-mail address because he was unable to reach the consultant. Mr. Banks responded with the address in five minutes.
But a check never arrived.
Mr. Hooser talked about the problem with Dan Lipian, chairman of the BGSU College Republicans. Mr. Lipian referred him to Mike Marsh, a lawyer and past chairman of the Wood County Republican Party.
I ve seen politicians use College Republicans to do their dirty work because these kids are enthusiastic, said Mr. Lipian, a senior majoring in physics. I think it s deplorable.
Mr. Baker was unavailable for comment yesterday.
Scott Pullins, an attorney for the Latta campaign, said there could be a gap between the decision to endorse Mr. Buehrer and the announcement of the endorsement, meaning that Mr. Hooser unwittingly served as a go-between for the two groups.
Mr. Pullins said he will send a letter today requesting that Mr. Buehrer and the Club for Growth retain all evidence related to the incident for a pending lawsuit and investigation.
What we ve heard so far is enough to file a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission, Mr. Pullins said. We think this is a violation of the law that is willful and reckless.
The Club for Growth was previously in extended litigation with the FEC.
In September, it paid the FEC $350,000 to settle a 2005 complaint over its status as a political nonprofit group.
The settlement reclassified the Club for Growth as a PAC, forcing it to report contributions and expenditures to the commission.
Contact Joshua Boak at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6728.