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Published: Thursday, 5/24/2012

Mandel gives back donations that are target of FBI investigation

BY TOM TROY AND TONY COOK
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

Ohio state Treasurer Josh Mandel, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, has returned $105,000 in campaign contributions that are under investigation by the FBI for possible campaign finance violations.

The money came from the employees of a North Canton business and their spouses and had sparked questions because contributions were made by individuals who did not have a record of making campaign donations and who did not appear to have high incomes.

Campaign spokesman Travis Considine on Thursday said the money was returned Tuesday to the 21 individuals who contributed to the Mandel Senate campaign. Mr. Mandel, who was sworn into office as state treasurer in January, 2011, is running against Democratic incumbent Ohio U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown.

Similar-sized contributions were made to U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci (R., Wadsworth), and are also being probed.

FBI Special Agent Vicki Anderson confirmed Wednesday that the FBI had interviewed Suarez Corp. employees and requested documents from the company and campaigns.

The probe centers on more than $200,000 in campaign contributions from employees at the Canton-based direct marketing firm owned by Benjamin Suarez, a frequent financial supporter of Republican causes.

According to a letter from Kathryn Kessler, Mr. Mandel’s campaign treasurer, the campaign was refunding “any contributions that appear to be under investigation by federal authorities.” The letter was obtained by The [Cleveland] Plain Dealer.

“We believe we have no reason to be concerned with the contribution, but out of an abundance of caution and until the investigation is complete, we believe this course of action is most appropriate,” Ms. Kessler’s letter said.

Democrats said Mr. Mandel was “shamed into” returning the campaign funds.

“Josh Mandel is a politician who can’t be trusted, and the fact he has been shamed into returning $105,000 in illegal contributions only after an FBI investigation became public goes right along with hiring unqualified political cronies and missing every single board of deposit meeting his first year in office,” said Justin Barasky, a spokesman for Friends of Sherrod Brown.

Federal campaign finance law prohibits a donor from contributing in someone else’s name 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 has said his employees are well paid, in part because of the company’s profit sharing policy, and chose to contribute on their own. They were not reimbursed by him or his company, he said.

Contact Tom Troy at tomtroy@theblade.com or 419-724-6058.



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