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Published: 8/20/2011

Suarez: Workers gave on their own

He says employees are well-paid

BY TONY COOK
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Northern Ohio businessman Benjamin Suarez, whose employees gave tens of thousands of dollars to two congressional candidates, said Friday they chose to do so and were not reimbursed by him or his company.

Sixteen employees from Canton-based Suarez Corporation each contributed $5,000, the maximum allowed by federal election law, to the campaigns of one or both candidates: Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, a Republican running for U.S. Senate, and U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci (R., Wadsworth), who represents Ohio's 16th District. Six of their spouses also made maximum contributions.

For some of the employees and their spouses, that adds up to $20,000. Many had never before given to federal campaigns. In all, Mr. Suarez, the 16 employees, and their spouses gave $100,000 to Mr. Mandel's campaign and $100,000 to Mr. Renacci's campaign, according to campaign filings.

Campaign finance experts told The Blade for an article published Friday that the donations raised questions. Federal campaign finance law prohibits a donor from contributing in someone else's name, especially if it's an attempt to get around the $5,000 giving limit. Similarly, election law prohibits a corporation from using bonuses or other methods of reimbursing employees for their contributions.

Mr. Suarez said that's not what happened.

"We don't need to do that," he said. "They make enough money that they can easily pay $10,000."

He said all of the employees, including those who listed their position as "copywriter," "writer," and "marketing," earn "high six-figure incomes." That's made possible through profit-sharing and, in some cases, sales commissions, he said.

He attributed the sudden uptick in employee giving to the poor economy, for which he said his employees blame Democrats.

"They've seen their pay impacted recently," he said. "There's a lot of people who weren't politically active before."

Asked if he ordered employees of his direct marketing firm to give money to the campaigns of Mr. Mandel and Mr. Renacci, he said he didn't have to.

"They feel [U.S. Sen.] Sherrod Brown is a radical communist," he said. "Our sales are down 40 percent since Obama took over."

Mr. Suarez, a longtime financial supporter of the GOP, said politics are often discussed at the company.

"We sit around and talk politics all the time," he said. "We talk about it in our meetings, too. It has a direct effect on our business. You can't have something affecting your business and not talk about it."

Still, he said he doesn't ask his employees for an accounting of their personal giving. "They don't tell me who they donate to," he said.

The Ohio Democratic Party criticized the Mandel campaign Friday for accepting the donations.

"Today's report that Josh Mandel received $100,000 in questionable contributions from workers in a Canton-based company, many of whom had almost no history of political giving, is very troubling and there are serious ethical and legal questions that should be answered," Justin Barasky, party spokesman, said. "Frankly, all of this smells worse than milk that's been left in a refrigerator for more than 90 days and it's extremely troubling that Josh Mandel's immediate reaction has been to try and sweep this under the rug."

The campaigns of Mr. Renacci and Mr. Mandel said Thursday they had no reason to believe the contributions were questionable.

Contact Tony Cook at: tcook@theblade.com or 419-724-6065.



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