COLUMBUS - After two tours in Iraq as a Marine intelligence specialist, Josh Mandel was not pleased to learn that public pensions in his home state were investing in companies doing business with terror-sponsoring Iran.
So, in his other life as a state representative, he introduced a bill that would have forced the funds to divest all holdings linked to Iran and genocide-stricken Sudan.
The bill did not become law, but the five pension funds came to the table and agreed to divest themselves of part of those investments.
"We ended up being the first state in the nation where the pension funds actually started divesting from terror-sponsoring nations," Mr. Mandel (R., Lyndhurst) said. "Since the Ohio pension funds started divesting, I think approximately 20 states across the nation have introduced similar legislation or passed similar policies. I'm proud that Ohio was a catalyst in this effort.
"They realized that it was financially risky and morally wrong to take the retirement dollars of policemen, firefighters, and teachers and invest them in a country that calls for the destruction of America and funds roadside bombs to kill the children of Ohio's policemen, firefighters, and teachers," he said.
Having tackled the issue from that angle, he's asking voters to put him in charge of the state's investment portfolio in the Ohio treasurer's office. He faces Democratic Treasurer Kevin Boyce, and Libertarian Matthew P. Cantrell of Columbus.
Mr. Mandel, 33, said he thinks his tours, his experience on the finance committee of Lyndhurst City Council in suburban Cleveland, and nearly two terms in the state House have prepared him to be Ohio's top banker and investor.
"I was trained to find where bad things and bad people are hidden and to help root them out," he said. "Similarly, in the state treasurer's office, I will use discipline, integrity, and attention to detail from the Marine Corps to find where bad people and bad things may be hidden in the state's investments and root them out in order to protect the people's money."
This year the race for a low-profile office has grown contentious.
The Ohio Democratic Party has accused Mr. Mandel of accepting money from people tied to pension fraud in other states.
"There are at least three people who have not only maxed out, but double-maxed out or given substantially to him that have been convicted or have settled where there was over $1 billion collectively in pension fund fraud in states like New York, Florida, and California," Mr. Boyce said. "That's a problem."
The donors included a man convicted of bribing a New York public official, the head of a firm convicted of deceptive loan practices, and the vice chairman of a firm fined by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in Florida. Mr. Mandel has not returned those contributions.
Mr. Mandel said the questioned donations were given to his state representative bid. He said those funds did not make their way into his treasurer campaign, even though the former committee was rolled over into the latter.
"I think I've held myself to a high standard…," he said. "We just respectively and fundamentally disagree with Treasurer Boyce that these folks rise to that level."
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