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COLUMBUS — Republican Josh Mandel has kept two traffic accidents quiet since becoming Ohio treasurer in 2011 — including one near Toledo that raises a potential violation of federal campaign finance law.
Law enforcement reports show one crash in March near Toledo and one in April, 2011, in downtown Columbus.
During the late-night March accident, Mr. Mandel was riding in a vehicle owned by his 2012 U.S. Senate campaign, months after he’d lost his high-profile bid against Democrat Sen. Sherrod Brown.
Under federal campaign finance law, Senate campaign property can’t be used for personal use or to campaign for a different office, such as treasurer.
Mr. Mandel’s state treasurer campaign says it rented the vehicle from the federal campaign. The rental check cleared June 30, more than seven months after Mr. Mandel had lost the Senate race and almost four months after the accident, which totaled the vehicle. Federal campaign rules generally require rental checks for transportation to be paid no more than 60 days after the travel takes place. Mr. Mandel’s political team says both state and federal campaign finance lawyers were consulted on the rental arrangement.
As treasurer, Mr. Mandel has opted not to use state-owned transportation for official business on the premise it saves taxpayers money. The practice, while legal, allows him to leave virtually no paper trail at his state office of his travel activity.
Campaign spokesman Rebecca Wasserstein said the practice is fiscally responsible. “While many public officials use tax dollars to travel around the state, Treasurer Mandel is saving Ohioans thousands of dollars by not using a penny of taxpayer money,” she said.
The practice meant he would have had to take extra steps to inform his state office he was involved in the two wrecks, and in one case sustained minor injuries. An AP public records request for associated documents turned up no records.
Ms. Wasserstein said Mr. Mandel informed his chief of staff of both crashes but did not make a formal report because neither accident involved official business.
The 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee owned by Mr. Mandel’s Senate campaign was totaled March 5 after his driver, Brian Pochitila, 29, spun out, lost control, and struck a concrete wall after hitting a patch of ice at about 11 p.m., according to the State Highway Patrol accident report.
The crash is said to have occurred on I-75 in Wood County near Toledo. No other details were available Tuesday.
In the earlier accident, Mr. Mandel was being driven by Jacob Dummermuth, then a 21-year-old Senate campaign intern, when their vehicle collided with another in downtown Columbus near Mr. Mandel’s state offices on April 26, 2011. Mr. Dummermuth drove a Ford Explorer owned by his father, according to the police report. At the time, Mr. Mandel had been treasurer a little more than three months.
Using campaign accounts to pay for official state trips is legal, but it can raise transparency issues for public officials. Most make known any traffic accidents in which they’re involved — such as a four-vehicle crash in April involving Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Those driving state vehicles must report accidents immediately.
Ms. Wasserstein said Mr. Mandel had a political event in Toledo March 6 and traveled up the night before in hopes of beating a snowstorm. His official calendar for April 26, 2011, shows he was due at a videotaping at the Statehouse to promote his Center for Public Investment Management on the afternoon of the crash.
Ohio Secretary of State filings show Mr. Pochitila, his driver in March, is paid by Mr. Mandel’s state treasurer campaign. The federal campaign, Citizens for Josh Mandel Inc., reported to the FEC it bought the vehicle it was driving for $13,800 on March 8, 2012, ahead of the November Senate election.
The March accident report lists Citizens for Josh Mandel as the vehicle’s owner.
Ohio campaign finance law would have barred transferring the vehicle from the federal to the state campaign, though the state campaign legally could have purchased the vehicle. The state campaign chose to pay $1,000 to rent it for two months from the federal campaign.